The Restaurant Reservations Problem and How Not To Solve It

Two weeks ago Facebook released its diversity report and I wrote a short post about what could happen when only a certain demographic is involved in product making decisions. Yes, single, white men in their twenties tend to come up with certain ideas. I talked about the new batch of apps that are created by this group for this group and how some of them weren’t as, shall we say, beneficial to society as others. TechCrunch went further and called these types of apps “JerkTech,” specifically calling out Reservation Hop and Parking Monkey.

Candlelight and bubbly at Bouche in San Francisco.  I made my own reservation.

Candlelight and bubbly at Bouche in San Francisco. I made my own reservation.

As a response, Brian Mayer, the developer of Reservation Hop wrote this post, trying to justify what he was doing by saying he was “solving a problem.” The comments on his post were a bit, well, painful to read so I decided to respond here.

Let’s talk about the problem he identified first.

  1. Reservations can be hard to get, especially at popular restaurants. Yes, restaurants have a limited number of tables that they offer. During certain times, those tables are in high demand and are hard to reserve.
  2. There is no #2. Mr. Mayer tried to solve just that part of the equation and didn’t consider the needs of the entire ecosystem.

Here are the problems that he didn’t talk about:

  1. First and foremost: an empty table is lost revenue. Mr. Mayer says he cancels unsold reservations four hours before their time slot. This isn’t enough time for restaurants to fill that table and it can hurt them.
  2. Open Table is not a good solution for all restaurants and it is especially not a good solution for popular restaurants. Restaurants pay Open Table for every reservation made through them and as a result, they keep the tables and times they know they’ll be able to fill up on their own via phone or walk-ins off the Open Table system.
  3. Restaurants don’t want to be in the software business. They need an off-the-shelf solution. Nik Konokos at Alinea and Next created his own reservation system but he is the exception to the rule. He is also selling his solution to other restaurants with similar booking difficulties. He did a great job at considering the user experience and the restaurant’s need when creating his system.
  4. Consumers do want to make restaurant reservations online but they don’t necessarily care what application they use to do it with. I have found that it’s easier for me to use Open Table via Yelp. If Yelp switched to another reservation-making tool I’d still continue to go through them. Ultimately users care about convenience. This is probably the reason restaurants continue offering reservations through Open Table.

What’s frustrating about this is that Mr. Mayer has indeed identified a real problem, both for restaurants and for users. Sadly, he tried to solve it from one perspective only. Worse, his solution hurt the restaurants. For a product to be successful and scalable, it should serve the needs of the entire ecosystem, not just one person with a pain point.


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