Open Tables: How much are restaurants suffering?

Categories: Restaurants
empty restaurant.jpg
Andrew Zimmern recently blogged:

My buddy Aaron called me last Thursday to inform me that the day before on Open Table, the only restaurants that were not offering tables on Saturday evening at 7 p.m. were Manny's, La Belle Vie, and a handful of other smaller places. Now that's a great indication of the how bad things are out there. Go online, and play around with it for yourself. Shocking.
But is Open Table really an accurate measurement of restaurant bookings? Not according to Lenny Russo, of Heartland, who passed along his thoughts on Open Table when he sent out his New Year's Eve menu (see the upcoming Hot Dish newsletter) to the local food media.
Also, for those you who are speculating about how the current state of the economy is affecting the local restaurant scene, I would encourage you to inquire of us directly rather than relying on outside information. I have noticed much speculation on various blogs about how bad it is out there for the restaurant community. Relying on mechanisms such as Open Table to inform about business levels is not a wise move. I've heard that some restaurants block out all of their prime time weekend slots so that they can manage the bookings themselves. It doesn't mean they are any busier or slower than anyone else. Heartland doesn't even seat at 7:00 since we open at 5:30 and turn tables every two hours.
When I followed up with Russo, he also mentioned a few other Open Table constraints:
We do not allow anyone to book a party greater than four guests online since we can't manage our room effectively and maximize cover counts if we do. We ask for our patrons to call us directly to book a large party. We also don't allow people to book NYE or VD online so if someone goes to the Open Table website seeking a reservation on either of those days it would appear that we are already sold out. Again, we ask that people call for those reservations.
Relying on only anecdotal evidence and not a broad survey, as I'm about to now, it's difficult to say how local restaurants are doing (Russo says Heartland's dining room is doing quite well, though the wine bar has been a little slow.) I have heard from a few restaurateurs that holiday party bookings are down significantly this year as corporations tighten their belts. That said, restaurants I've visited in recent weeks (mostly mid-priced or upscale, all independently owned) seem to be fairly busy--hopefully a trend that will sustain itself in the through the depths of winter.

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