Mark Pastore, one of the owners of San Francisco’s Incanto and Boccalone, has a not-uncommon complaint he’d like to share: A huge company (OpenTable, valued at $1.5 billion) offers an online hub that gives customers incredibly straightforward access to a service (reservation-making) that was previously a little annoying. It establishes itself as the place for this type of business. But in return for offering this service, the huge company charges smaller businesses (restaurants) a bigger sum of money than the small businesses actually feel like they should be paying. And yet! Because the huge company’s business is so spectacularly successful, pervasive, and easy-to-use, the small businesses are fearful of breaking their ties with the huge company because they are afraid potential customers will shun them. Okay, fair. But this all sounds really familiar.
Oh, right: People have been saying this forever. Record companies and TV networks say it about iTunes. Concert venues and bands say it about Ticketmaster. Food Network’s parent company says it about cable companies (all the time). Everyone everywhere says it about Wal-Mart.
But there is one difference with OpenTable: The businesses that its service piggybacks on — restaurants — actually aren’t TV networks or record labels; they’re really small businesses. (The restaurateurs we know aren’t out buying Aston Martins and Spanish villas.) So we’re kind of on Pastore’s side here. Even still, when we wanted to make a dinner reservation this morning at a restaurant that’s been around a lot longer than the Internet, we went right over to OpenTable. (Turns out they didn’t have anything online, but when we called the restaurant we got the exact time we wanted.) But if the Beatles can finally end up on iTunes, isn’t it really just a matter of time before the Incantos and Momofukus of the world end up on OpenTable?