OpenTable Helping Restaurants to Lift Last-Minute Reservations on the Phone

OpenTable is starting to see a lot more reservations coming from mobile, but the big hinderance to even more adoption is that not many restaurants have a mobile-friendly version of their Web site.

The online reservations company is hoping to solve that problem by giving restaurants the tools they need to optimize their sites for the smaller screen. “It may be a cost issue, or they don’t know who to call or how to maintain it, but for whatever reason, there’s a lot of things that have created a barrier that has prevented restaurants for doing it before,” said Matthew Roberts, OpenTable’s CEO.

Starting today, OpenTable will be reaching out to thousands of restaurants regarding the free service, which will be powered by its partner, DudaMobile. But if restaurants don’t act fast, OpenTable will start charging around $100 for the service after Jan. 31. The three-month window reveals a sense of urgency by OpenTable to get restaurants’ sites optimized for the phone.

In the second quarter, 28 percent of the 28 million reservations made through OpenTable in North America were created on mobile devices, including phones and tablets, which is up from 25 percent in the first quarter. But it could be higher if it weren’t for the fact that only about 10 percent of the company’s restaurants have a mobile-friendly version of their site.

Roberts said other Internet businesses must come up with new revenue streams for mobile, but not OpenTable. When a diner goes to the restaurant’s Web site, OpenTable charges 25 cents per seat for a reservation, and when a diner comes to OpenTable, it charges a $1 per seat — regardless of whether the transaction happened on a desktop computer or a mobile phone. “We don’t have to rethink how to make revenue on a mobile phone,” he said.

With millions of Americans carrying mobile phones, and looking for reservations up until the last minute, he said it makes sense to provide the ability to book from a phone. OpenTable has already optimized its site for mobile and has applications across the major operating systems.

OpenTable, as well as other companies like Groupon and Square, are constantly developing tools to make it easier for small- to medium-sized businesses to operate. Over the past year, Groupon has rolled out a number of services, including online calendar tools, rewards and mobile payments. Next up, Roberts said, they will be personalizing OpenTable’s Web site, so that when diners visit, they’ll see recommendations based on their past reservations, but he declined to say whether OpenTable was interested in offering other services, like mobile payments. “All things are in bounds. … I wouldn’t rule out any element, but nothing specific to share with you at this moment,” he said.

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