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Press Release

Table for 2 is a click away - Part II

September 8, 2006
As an enticement, customers who register fully with OpenTable can earn credits toward dining certificates that can be used at any of the 5,300 participating restaurants nationwide. Think of them as frequent-diner points.

And all of this is free to the consumer; OpenTable makes money from fees paid by participating restaurants. There is an initial setup fee, $1,295, says Ann Shepherd, senior director of consumer marketing from OpenTable. Restaurants also pay a monthly fee of about $200 and $1 per reservation placed online. If a diner calls the restaurant directly, OpenTable is paid about 25 cents per person.

There are other sites that claim to offer reservations online. Dinnerbro ker.com shows Dux as one of the restaurants diners may reserve through them, although Dux's Nickell says he is not aware of DinnerBroker and the restaurant has not received any reservations through it since he has been manager.

According to Shepherd, those sites operate under an allocation system -- participating restaurants make a number of tables available for the site to book. But the main difference is that OpenTable is the only online site that is "live." "It's real time," she says, "when you search you're actually seeing what's available." And you can make your reservation any time of the day or night, not just during the restaurant's business hours when the phones are answered.

One thing you can't do is see a layout of the restaurant and point and click on a particular table. She says that's because restaurants frequently pull tables together and change the dining-room configuration to accommodate different groups, so any seat you might choose may not exist on the evening you dine.

The system cannot guarantee a table. Emeril's Restaurant at CityWalk is the most popular local restaurant on OpenTable.com. When I went to the Web site and tried to book a table for an upcoming Friday night at 8, I was told no tables were available, which is not surprising. OpenTable offered a chart of other restaurants in the area that had availability at that time, another helpful feature that users like.

But instead of choosing another option, I called Emeril's directly. Yes, the woman on the phone said, there were tables available at 7, 7:30, 8 and 8:30 p.m. I told her I would like a table for two at 8, then I gave her the name I use to make reservations.

She asked me if I was still at the same phone number I gave the last time I dined there.

Scott Joseph can be reached at 407-420-5514 or sjoseph@orlandosentinel.com.

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