OpenTable Reviews, Know Who Your Customer Is

OpenTable added a restaurant reviews section. This is a bad idea.

I use OpenTable all the time, in fact it is now a rarity that I don’t use the service to book a restaurant. It works great, has a broad selection of restaurants, and doesn’t cost anything (unlike Fandango and others that tack on a “convenience fee”). So, in short, great service and would be a real loss if I could not use it anymore.

Here’s why adding restaurant reviews are a bad idea. The customer for OpenTable is the restaurant, not me; I am merely a participant in the value chain. Restaurants pay OpenTable for every reservation that is booked through the service and for reservations that are made on the OpenTable provided terminal even if the reservation is made over the phone. For the restaurant they are willing to take on this additional cost for the convenience provided by the service and for the customer acquisition opportunity. Currently, OpenTable does a good job of not playing favorites, every restaurant regardless of their prestige or rating and size is treated equally.

By adding restaurant reviews what OpenTable has done is align themselves on the side of the non paying part of their equation, me. They are setting themselves up for conflict within their restaurant network as the playing field will no longer be level. Furthermore, for restaurants that do have brand and reputation, and OpenTable really does want these restaurants in their network, they have an excuse to not participate because of the review section.

Lastly, not having reviews doesn’t make me NOT USE THE SERVICE. They just added something that is speculatively controversial for their economic customer while not adding anything that will make me, the non-economic customer, use it more!

It may end up being a problem that is the equivalent of a gnat on the back of a fly and don’t get me wrong, adding reviews is likely to become something that I find useful as the review section is built out, but I have to wonder why they are risking alienating the paying part of their business with features that cater to the part of their business that doesn’t pay and is going to use the service with or without reviews.