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Press Release

Like waiting? Go out to eat.

June 19, 2006
The following is a facsimile of consecutive telephone calls made by me last Monday:

Me: "Hello! I'd like to make a reservation for four for Saturday night."

Restaurant No. 1: "I'm sorry, we don't take reservations."

Me: "Yes, hi. I'd like to reserve a table for four for Sat-.. ."

Restaurant No. 2: "We don't accept reservations."

Me: "Do you take reservations?"

Restaurant No. 3: "Yes, we do."

Me: "Great! I'd like to make a reservation for Saturday night."

Restaurant No. 3: "We're booked until April of 2007."

Me: "Um, I called a few minutes ago. Are you sure you can't take a reservation?"

Restaurant No. 1: "No, I can't, but we have a nice lounge area where you and a horde of 200 ravished suburbanites can jostle each other indefinitely while waiting for a table."

Look, I'm not here to perpetuate that old Borscht Belt joke about women. But on occasion, for dinner, I do like to make reservations. My beef is that a good number of restaurants on Long Island are unwilling to accept them. Instead, patrons are expected to perform the unthinkable - walk in, wing it and wait. I find this notion preposterous, regressive - almost unconstitutional. Imagine going to the therapist sans appointment. Ever try hopping on a plane without a reservation? When's the last time you sauntered into a job interview at random?

In my view, in an age of Palm Pilots and BlackBerries in which every waking second is scheduled and accounted for, a "no-reservations" restaurant policy is as antiquated as ordering pheasant under glass and a Tom Collins.

In addition, who has time to call 20 restaurants before finding one that will save me a seat? Fact is, when it comes to meals, clocks rule. All sorts of them, like the baby-sitter's $10-an-hour timer, not to mention my organic ticker, which contractually stipulates food every three hours or my stomach organizes a boycott. Under these sorts of time constraints, who'd risk a restaurant on a Saturday night without a waiting table?

I tried it once. The maître d' grinned vapidly, tossed me a beeper and assured a 15-minute wait, which in English meant 45 minutes or possibly an hour and a half. Some 25 minutes later, she spied me talking up the crème brûlée to a seated diner. That he had just dug into a shrimp cocktail was of no consequence - I just wanted that table.

Unfortunately, while formulating a plan to confiscate that shrimp, I became momentarily distracted, and the cunning hostess took the opportunity to usher an elderly couple into my claimed space. Luckily, Phil and Irma didn't mind dining with a stranger, and I'm looking forward to meeting their seven grandchildren next Tuesday.

That evening, however, spawned a brilliant idea of the high-techiest proportions: No more dialing for dinner. Instead, wouldn't it be marvelous if one could make restaurant reservations over the Internet? Who needs to wait on line when one could simply go online to book a table?

Sure, I'm just a housemom and amateur diner, but that didn't stop me from formulating the following business plan: I'd create the software, get a bunch of restaurants to sign up and offer this one-of-a-kind automated service to foodies everywhere. Patrons could log on, browse through the list of restaurants that accept reservations and click. Ingenious, no?

Chuck Templeton sure thinks so. That's why in 1998 he took the concept I just came up with and founded OpenTable.com, an online restaurant reservations service. There are other similar enterprises: iseatz.com, Dinner Broker.com, GuestBridge.com.

I question why no one ever informed me of these options, but now that I'm in on the virtual secret, I have lots of phone calls to not make. And plenty of time to e-mail Phil and Irma about our Friday-night dinner reservations - party of 10.

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