Dive Brief:

  • OpenTable launched a consumer-facing feature, called Back to the Table, that provides information to help diners safely return to dining out, the platform said Tuesday in a press release emailed to Restaurant Dive. The information hub lists which restaurants are open for dine-in, delivery or takeout near diners and a heat map of updated restaurants restrictions. The feature also includes recommendations on where to dine with kids, outdoors or for a unique experience based on user feedback. 
  • The reservation platform will roll out a tool called At Your Service on Thursday to help operators reopen, an OpenTable spokesperson said. The feature includes flow controls to limit the number of covers or parties that can book a reservation at any given time, a guest feedback management tool, free online waitlists for diners to join from anywhere and local benchmarking data.
  • According to a survey from OpenTable and the James Beard Foundation, 54% of consumers said they plan to dine out at least once a week or more in 2021. According to OpenTable’s State of the Industry dashboard, seated diners are down just 21% as of April 5 compared to 2019 levels, an increase of over 30% in two months.

Dive Insight:

By removing some of the guesswork around local restaurant restrictions for diners, OpenTable could help reopened eateries fill seats faster and improve their recovery. The industry has already begun to bounce back — 75% of restaurants listed on the reservation platform have reopened in the U.S. — but some consumers may still need coaxing to shift their dining dollars from takeout to on-premise visits, where they could linger and spend more.

The dizzying pace of restaurant restriction fluctuations over the past year likely doesn’t help consumer confidence, especially since safety measures have been so disparate across the country. In New York City, for example, restrictions varied by neighborhood, while in California, adjacent counties have disparate restrictions

Data from CivicScience echoes OpenTable’s research, showing that while 53% of Americans say they are comfortable dining at a restaurant now, the rest reported they needed more time to feel comfortable. These anxieties linger as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that on-site dining leads to an increased rate of COVID-19 cases and deaths

OpenTable’s “Open Near Me” feature could appeal to a wide swath of consumer comfort levels, as it shows what is available for dine-in, and what is available for takeout or delivery only. As of March 30, 13 states have indoor dining without restrictions. OpenTable’s list of outdoor dining availability could also help consumers feel safer.

For restaurant operators, the ability to limit capacity at any given time is also a timely resource to meet those changing capacity regulations. Several operators told The Wall Street Journal that the biggest struggle now is not knowing how many patrons to expect at any given time. This is where OpenTable’s benchmark feature could come in handy, allowing restaurateurs to gauge how other area establishments are faring and anticipating their needs accordingly. Such benchmarking tools seem to be uncommon for platforms like OpenTable. Yelp added enhanced analytics in February to its Yelp for Business allowing operators to view performance, including number of diners seated, diners seated via Yelp, seating conversion rates and wait time accuracy. 

Though vaccinations are being distributed at an accelerated pace in the U.S., a few health experts have warned the country could be entering a fourth wave of the pandemic, and COVID-19 hospital cases are on the rise in at least half of U.S. states. This means changing dining regulations may not be off the table just yet and, if that’s the case, OpenTable’s new features would be even more helpful by advertising restaurants’ current operating statuses.