SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Having spent nearly a decade convincing 8,500 restaurants to let people book tables online, OpenTable.com now aims to make doing that easier for those who leave home without making plans.
On Monday, Open Table Inc, a San Francisco-based company backed by venture capital money, plans to announce that people will be able to make quick online restaurant reservations over their BlackBerries and other mobile devices.
Chief Executive Jeff Jordan expects Open Table’s mobile site to be a hit among its target audience of “affluent, professional, time-constrained” diners who want to book a table while on the road, or away from their desktop computers.
“The company’s been around for 10 years, and for most of that time, has been maniacally focused on building out its restaurant network,” Jordan said in a recent interview.
That focus has paid off, with Open Table seating 3 million diners in May, Jordan said. That translated into $150 million in revenue for participating restaurants, the company said. A year ago, 2 million diners used Open Table in a month.
But the website, where people can check if their favorite eatery has a table free without calling, had only been improved cosmetically as Open Table has focused on selling computers fitted with its reservation software to restaurants, he said.
“We made a strategic decision to increase significantly our investment in the consumer-slash-website side of the business,” Jordan said.
The mobile feature is just one of many initiatives as Open Table tries to make choosing restaurants and booking tables at them more fun, useful and informative for people, Jordan said.
“Historically, where the site’s done well is to tell you where you can eat,” said the former head of eBay Inc’s (EBAY.O) North American operations who became Open Table CEO in May 2007. “Now we’re also trying to tell you what restaurant is right for your occasion right now, whether it’s a business meal, a date or a family celebration.”
Last month, Open Table introduced “Diners’ Choice Lists,” with ratings based on feedback from people who’ve eaten at the venues. In addition to the more traditional “Best of” categories, Open Table has lists of places under different categories, such as “Fit for Foodies” and “Neighborhood Gems.”
Jordan said these differ from reviews on rivals such as Yelp.com as they’re based on thousands of submissions a month from people who are known to have booked at those restaurants.
Open Table has tied up with restaurants to offer dining incentive points that people can redeem for free meals. Jordan, a 48-year-old trained chef and avid mountain biker, said the company is looking at other similar offerings.
Jordan said he hoped new features would attract more people as Open Table aims to do for restaurant booking what sites like Travelocity.com have done with hotel and airline reservations.
Jordan estimated there are 25,000-30,000 U.S. restaurants that take reservations, of which only 7,000 are in Open Table’s network. The remaining 1,500 restaurants in its network are located in the UK, Germany, Japan and few other countries.
The company, employing 250 people, has doubled the number of engineers in the past year to speed up innovation of its Web offerings, Jordan said. He declined to comment on whether it plans to go public or if it is profitable, but noted it has not raised money from venture capitalists “in a few years.”
Editing by Braden Reddall