OpenTable.com is a free online service that allows you to book reservations at a restaurant right from your computer (which obviously has to be connected to the Internet). The first step is to sign up (free). You give them an E-mail address and choose a password, and you also provide your phone number so the restaurant can contact you if there is a problem with your reservation.
There are almost 30 restaurants in New Orleans that participate, notably all of Emeril’s restaurants. Once you are at the site you enter your key dining criteria. For example, let’s say you know you need to find a nice restaurant in New Orleans on April 15th for six people, and you want to eat at 9:00 pm. Simply by entering those criteria you will get a search result that will list all the restaurants that can accomodate that many people at that time of the night. And if you find a good match you just book the reservation right then and there just like you were ordering a book from Amazon. Click, and you’re done.
I’ll pause for a moment while you consider the implications.
Obviously, when you are looking for a place to eat and you have a large party this is a good way to efficiently filter your search. Also, the fact that you see a list of available restaurants may spur you to choose a place that you like but wouldn’t otherwise have thought of. Sure there are lots of great New Orleans restaurants that aren’t in the system, but they are adding restaurants all the time.
There are currently 16 major cites in the system (and many other smaller towns too) so if you are travelling to one of those cities it’s a good way to discover restaurants in a way that is fast and easy. I like this concept a lot and I’m going to start playing with it more to see how well it works. If you have used it and have experiences with OpenTable.com that you want to share send me and E-mail and I’ll update this post to include your comments.
Update: Reader Matt Volk offers these helpful comments:
"I’ve been using Open Table for a number of years (enough to recently get a $25 gift certificate). There are lots of restaurants here which are in their system (189 per the website), but some are less available online. I have found that some places don’t let you reserve online between 7-9 PM. Check out Gibson’s in Chicago for an example. I’ve never seen an opening there during “prime time”. It’s almost like the restaurant wanted Open Table’s hardware, but the restaurant didn’t want to lose control over the reservation process."