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Press Release

Online Reservations Gain Supporters

January 12, 2000
At Avenue One, they've thrown away their reservation book. In its place at the host stand, owner Arnie Millan has installed a touch-screen computer that checks for available seats and instantly confirms requests for reservations that arrive over the Internet. The mini-computer also is used to record reservations placed the old-fashioned way, by telephone.

When it signed up in September with OpenTable.com of San Francisco, Avenue One became the first Seattle restaurant wired to the Web in real time. Since then, OpenTable has brought seven other Seattle restaurants online, and more are on the way.

With real-time reservations, the reservation request flows instantly from the diner's PC keyboard over the Internet to the host-stand computer, which the restaurant leases from the service. That computer checks the request against the inventory of seats and, if a table is available, books the reservation electronically and sends back a confirmation. The Internet booking, for which the restaurant pays the service $1 each, shows up on the computer with all the other bookings.

The attraction of OpenTable and its ilk for restaurateurs has less to do with real-time reservations than with the so-called "customer loyalty" software that comes in the package. That software, similar to the stand-alone system installed at the newly opened Baccano in Belltown, allows the restaurant to monitor customer patterns and preferences.

"The value is in the fact that we're better able to keep track of special requests -- if we have people who like a certain table, for example, or some people can't eat mushrooms or nut oils -- and we keep all that in the database." Millan said.

At Buca di Beppo in Seattle, general manager Kevin Lambes has installed two OpenTable computers in his sprawling, 400-seat dining room: one by the host station and another for the wait staff.

"It works great," he said. "It really helps streamline the front of the house. For instance, if someone takes a reservation and enters it on the wrong day, I can find it through my guest's last name, without flipping through the pages of a book."

When a customer makes a reservation, the software allows Lambes to add a comment to the entry, noting, for example, a birthday celebration, or a preference for a specific waiter. And when taking a reservation, the staff can check the name against the database and recognize frequent customers.

Wednesday, January 12, 2000
©2000 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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