Starting in 2019, more Chicago diners will be pushed toward another reservation platform. Last week — as first reported by Eater — Resy announced the acquisition of online restaurant booking rival Reserve, a platform that counts many of Chicago’s best restaurants, including Rick Bayless’ Frontera Group, as clients. The transaction allows Resy to swallow Reserve’s sizable Chicago presence and positions the New York-based company to better challenge OpenTable, the largest online reservation company in the country.
Reserve sent its restaurants a message announcing the move, but Chicago diners won’t immediately see the impact. Resy told the New York Times that the transition will start early next year. Currently, Reserve and Resy — a four-year-old company based in N.Y. — are operating as two entities. Until the acquisition, Resy counted 10 Chicago-area clients. Its most notable Chicago client may be Pacific Standard Time, an acclaimed restaurant that opened earlier this year in River North. They’ve lately added Twain in Logan Square and Bibliophile in Hyde Park. Resy’s a bigger presence in other cities, like New York.
Online bookings can sink a restaurant, and that’s been well documented. One way booking companies can entice restaurants is to offer free services as a trial. But like a tempting discounted cable TV subscription, if restaurants owners aren’t vigilant, they’re likely to see surprising charges pop up. That was the case for Zoë Schor, the chef/owner of Split-Rail in West Town. OpenTable drove her away when she found a $700 charge which was eventually refunded. OpenTable called it a “clerical error,” Schor said.
Schor thinks the Resy/Reserve move should better grab the attention of more customers browsing reservation apps and translate to more diners eating at Split-Rail.
“I think this is the best move to break up the OpenTable monopoly,” Schor said.
Over the summer, Schor talked about how she felt OpenTable was vindictive when Split-Rail switched to Reserve. OpenTable was slow to take down an inactive Split-Rail search widget on Google. When customers clicked, it appeared Split-Rail had no seating availability when there was plenty of availability on Reserve. OpenTable shrugged its shoulders when asked to take it down, Schor said, and blamed Google. A Google spokesperson told Eater Chicago that it wasn’t the search engine’s fault — in most cases the reservation link should disappear automatically a few days after the transition. They recommended talking to the reservation company first. If that didn’t work, they should try Google’s small business center.
That’s why the process of bringing restaurants from Reserve to Resy needs to be a smooth one. But don’t assume all of Reserve’s former clients will stay with Resy. Schor’s aware of local competitor Tock, the company founded by Alinea Group’s Nick Kokonas. She’s not ruling anything out, but wonders if her neighborhood restaurant — which seats about 90 — is the right fit for Tock. Tock battles restaurant no-shows by asking customers to prepay for their meals. But not all restaurants require full payments. They could ask for smaller deposits, too. The majority of Tock restaurants use “normal” or free reservations.
Kokonas said he had the chance to buy Reserve but passed on the deal. He’s also confident that Reserve customers will switch to Tock. As he’s known to do, Kokonas shared his thoughts on the deal via a Medium post. It’s been only a week, but Tock’s already contacted Schor, she said.
The world of online reservation booking is a competitive one, and Schor has heard the companies sling tons of mud at each other in the quest for more clients. For example, Kokonas doubts the number of restaurants Resy and Reserve claimed to serve. There are mentions of the OpenTable scandal that broke in the spring where an employee made fake reservations to harm former clients. That fired employee faces federal charges.
But not everyone holds hard feelings toward OpenTable. Inside the Ace Hotel in Fulton Market, City Mouse was one of restaurants victimized by the “rogue” OpenTable employee. But now, City Mouse is currently on OpenTable. An Ace Hotel spokesperson said the move was done for standardization purposes — all Ace Hotel restaurants across the U.S. use OpenTable. City Mouse is a unique case, possibly the only Chicago restaurant to be on Resy — where it debuted when it opened in 2017 — Reserve, and OpenTable.
This drama isn’t what Schor wants to focus on, as Split-Rail recently went through its own transition toward a more casual atmosphere. She’s trying to survive a volatile local restaurant market and wonders how reservations companies will help.
“Instead of taking shots at each other, tell me what’s so great about you guys,” Schor said.
- Resy Acquires Reserve, the Other Non-OpenTable Restaurant Reservation System [Eater National]
- Resy Acquires Reserve, in the Fierce Tussle Over Restaurant Reservations [New York Times]
- How Restaurants Can Deal With No-Show Diners [Eater National]
- The Restaurant Reservations Game is About To (Finally) Get Wild [Nick Kokonas, Medium]
- OpenTable Infuriates Restaurants With Fake Reservations Scheme [Eater Chicago]
- Fired OpenTable Employee Faces Federal Fraud Charge For Fake Reservations [Eater Chicago]
- Split-Rail’s New Menu Offers Vegan and Gluten-Free Fried Chicken [Eater Chicago]