After yesterday’s public head-scratching on the San Francisco blog over OpenTable’s handling of large parties (in this case at Medjool), we got a response to our question of why reservations for, say, 12 people, sometimes can’t be accepted through OpenTable, but can be accommodated after a phone call directly to the restaurant. OT spokeswoman Shannon Stubo wrote in an e-mail:
The availability you see on OpenTable.com is a direct reflection of the way the restaurant has set up its reservation book. Each restaurant sets its book up differently to accommodate the unique dining patterns and management needs of that particular business. When a diner searches OpenTable.com for restaurant reservations, the results reflect the actual book availability at that restaurant at that point in time.
Because a restaurant may have the flexibility to reconfigure tables during service (combining two tables for two into one table for four, for example or reassess the expected completion time of a previous dining party), hostesses are sometimes able to accommodate diners by phone. Large parties require a certain amount of operational attention, and restaurants occasionally want a human to make that decision based on what’s currently going on in the restaurant.
The takeaway: Use OpenTable to make dinner reservations, but if you can’t get one, and you really want it, don’t give up. Maybe the restaurant has a waiting list they can stick you on, or maybe they got a last-minute cancellation that hasn’t made it into OT’s system. As convenient and wonderful as OpenTable is, there’s little substitute for good old human problem solving. And if all else fails, there’s always bribery, for which OT doesn’t have a button.