I’ve looked at a lot of monthly OT bills and reports but this one jumped out at me for a good reason. I knew for a fact that the restaurant had a link on their website to OpenTable… and yet, they were getting credit for ZERO referrals. OT was claiming credit during this time period for ALL of their online bookings organically. And charging the full $1 per seated diner rate for every single online booking. This seemed beyond unlikely. Something was broken.
That number Zero really stuck out at me… impossible!
A look at the restaurant’s website quickly gave me the answer: the restaurant’s web developer simply cut and pasted a link to the OT page for their restaurant. They did not include the proper REF code (This one: &restref=RESTAURANT_ID) in the HTML, and so even if a diner went to the restaurant website and clicked the link, the restaurant was charged the full $1 per seated diner and OT was credited with an ‘incremental diner’. By the way, this is also true if a diner starts at Google, Maps, Yelp, etc.
I wondered aloud — more like screamed — in the Tock offices, “Man, I wonder how many other restaurants fuck that up.” The great thing about working with brilliant people is that instantly one of our engineers shouted at me with a wry smile, “You know, I could write a program to check for that.”
And so, my restaurant friends, he did just that. And whether or not you ever look at Tock or consider switching to our system (but please you really should, and you’ll want to by the end of this blog post), we at Tock want to save you money immediately. How many of you? Well, a lot of you. By our current calculation, 40.3% of OpenTable clients in the US and UK.
That answer to my question was found within 24 hours. It blew my mind…
Read the fine print at the bottom of your OpenTable contract.
There’s about a 40% chance that you have coded your website incorrectly and OpenTable is overcharging you for your monthly per-diner fees. How do we at Tock know this? Read on! If you’ve made this error we’ll save your restaurant money immediately.
See that screenshot from an OpenTable contract above? That * is very important to you if you are an OpenTable client restaurant. Why? Because it’s very likely that it’s costing you a ton of money every month. As the founder and CEO of Tock I learned this the hard way. The only consistent objection to switching from OpenTable to Tock that I hear is that OpenTable brings xxx number of guests per month through their network. It’s a belief that OpenTable has worked very hard to engender and is in fact the only competitive advantage they have right now… not the network, the belief. It’s core to their entire business plan. A large percentage of their revenue comes from these incremental per-diner fees.
OpenTable charges $1 per seated diner for every guest that books through OT’s website, app, or affiliate partners. They charge $.25 per seated diner if the referral originates on the restaurant’s website. Presumably, the restaurant ‘earned’ that guest and a discount. OpenTable obviously has a huge incentive to push as many diners through their proprietary sites as possible since they earn $0.75 more per person.
As Tock’s CTO Brian Fitzpatrick outlined in a logical Medium post, in the age of Search and Social OT relies on reselling a restaurant its own diners far more often than bringing in incremental business. But despite explaining this to restaurants, they fear that they will lose customers if they switch from OT, even though diners ultimately will book through any competently built system, Tock included. OpenTable works hard to stoke that fear.
Here’s what we found from a program we built to check every current OpenTable restaurant to see how they link back to OT.
- Total OT restaurants in the US & UK that we indexed to their websites: ~31,000
That’s how many we were able to index. Of those:
- ~9500 restaurants had NO LINK WHATSOEVER back to OT on their website and therefore do not EVER qualify for the $.25 discounted charges
- ~2,100 restaurants’ websites had multiple links to OT with some links that do not include the referral code and some that do. It’s impossible to know without Google Analytics access what percentage of covers are affected. From our spot checks with potential restaurant clients we estimate between 30% and 40%. That’s a lot of wasted $$ and ££.
- ~900 restaurant’s websites had a link to OT with no referral code and therefore got no discount ever. This could have been going on for years in many cases.
These numbers are approximate solely because some restaurants use Flash (ugh) and other programs which make it difficult or impossible to index the site links perfectly.
Perhaps most amazingly, some of the 2,100 that had multiple links — and you gotta love the chutzpah on this one — had OpenTable provided “award” banners that restaurants put on their website that do not include the reference code. OpenTable gives them an ‘award’ of their own creation to put on the restaurant website, and that banner ad does not contain the restaurant reference code. Brazen.
Of course, they say right at the very bottom of the contract, with an * and some fine print, that it is the restaurant’s responsibility to put in the code — though beyond contacting OT they don’t tell the restaurant how to do that. So basically, OT can argue it’s the chef’s or manager’s or owner’s fault.
And because most restaurant owners and workers don’t understand web coding or never bothered to contact OpenTable, OpenTable never bothered to contact them. And in some cases kept charging them for their own customers — and sending them a monthly report indicating that diners came organically through OpenTable’s Network, worth the $1 per cover. This reinforces the fear of leaving OpenTable.
It took one of our engineers at Tock less than 12 hours to do a health check on thousands of websites. It’s taken OT nearly 20 years to keep the business model intact long past its useful existence. Does OpenTable have the best interests of its restaurant customers in mind? OpenTable claims to have seated something on the order of 252,000,000 diners last year alone.
It’s unclear how many of those booked digitally… but let’s be generous and say it’s only half. If 35% of bookings originate at a restaurant’s website, and 40% of those 31,000 restaurants are affected and are overpaying by $.75 per seated customer…. well, it’s impossible for us to calculate the amount of money restaurant’s may be overpaying, but it’s on the order of millions and millions of dollars every year. For many, many years.
We decided to make a website analysis tool that can help your restaurant identify broken links. It’s ready today.
Please visit exploretock.com/join/upgrade if you’re on OpenTable and contact us at Tock should you need any help. Even if you never switch to Tock, we want you to start saving money.
I’ve long suspected that this was common practice but now we have the data to prove it. I welcome any journalist to check our methods. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
Interested in switching to Tock?
We’re here to help.