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That has always been the speculation among a certain set of savvy diners who believe that restaurateurs reserve a number of seats for walk-ins and special guests. These folks believe, in other words, that when OpenTable says a restaurant is booked for the night, it really isn’t.
Y&H had a chance to speak today with Ann Shepherd, the vice president of marketing for OpenTable, and she tried to put those rumors to rest. For the “vast majority” of restaurants, Shepherd said, the OpenTable system works with the exact same floor seating plan as the brick-and-mortar establishment itself. In fact, she added, OpenTable can probably get you a seat faster at a popular restaurant because cancellation notices will be immediately logged into the system.
Shepherd did allow that some restaurants might be “setting aside a table for a VIP,” but noted that, if such were the case, you wouldn’t be able to secure those seats anyway.
I decided to press Shepherd on this issue because the public perception seems so different from OpenTable’s take on it.
Shepherd acknowledged that restaurateurs might manipulate their floor seating plans without those changes being reflected in the online system. For example, she said, a manager might move around tables and add an extra one or two on a busy night, or the manager might decide that the weather’s nice enough to open the patio.
Those kind of manipulations would lead to open seats that you’d never find on OpenTable. In other words, it can’t hurt to call the restaurant even if OpenTable says it’s booked.