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Press Release

Web helps restaurants track patrons' needs - Part I

July 12, 2007
About an hour before the first customers were set to arrive at Sassi, an Italian restaurant in north Scottsdale, management sat around a long table to discuss the preferences and quirks of that evening's scheduled guests.

There was the couple set to arrive at 6:30 p.m. who liked a Pinot Grigio that was no longer on the wine list. The wine steward said last time they were in he gave them a similar, but more expensive, bottle for the same price. He wondered whether they should repeat the offer.

Another reservation, table for two at 7 p.m., was an anniversary dinner. The husband had sent flowers to the restaurant to be set on the table. The bouquet had arrived, but the envelope that came with it was empty. After brief discussion about whether the staff should write a card themselves, it was decided it was best to leave it be.

In front of everybody was a two-page printout from the OpenTable reservation system that listed not only the last name of who was coming, but also a note about, say, whether they liked to start with the caprese salad.

Customers get sold on using the OpenTable Web site (www.opentable.com) because it allows easy online reservations and rewards frequent diners with discounts.

Restaurants like the system because it helps track who is coming in the door and allows them to build a database of their frequent patrons' likes and dislikes.

"You have a much better opportunity to have a personal connection with a customer," said Stephen Plunkett, Sassi's general manager.

Almost 100 restaurants in the Phoenix area use the system, which started in San Francisco in 1999.

Christopher Gross, owner and chef at Christopher's at Biltmore Fashion Park in Phoenix, said he heard of a hair salon that kept track of customers in a similar fashion. He jumped at the chance to expand the idea into his restaurant.

Gross said the system helps prevent the sometimes awkward meetings between a new hostess and a longtime customer.

"They come up to the front and the hostess doesn't recognize them," Gross said. "They sometimes get offended.

"With this, as soon as you punch up their name, we can put in things like 'special care' or 'VIP' or 'friend of chef.' . . . They can be instantly recognized by your newest employee."

Gross said he will often take a peek at the OpenTable reservation list before heading into the kitchen.

The list gives him "a little reminder of who's coming in and maybe I need to stop at a table." Otherwise, he said, "I might have been stuck in the kitchen."

Plunkett said he had used haphazard systems at other restaurants before opening Sassi, but it was mainly "scribbling handwritten notes all over our reservation sheet."

OpenTable is cleaner, he said. At Sassi, the maitre d' hands the host a small slip of paper that lists the guests' names and any notes. That slip is then handed to the server, who uses it at his or her discretion.

Continued in Part II.

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