I have a favorite small restaurant. Its run by the chef and his mother (who does the front). The menu is creative, the prices reasonable. I take friends, family and visiting dignitaries there. The restaurant is in an old townhouse, about 15′ wide and 40′ long, with 20-ish tables. I love the place.
They never joined OpenTable, which is a online restaurant service I have used from time to time for both the fancy occasion restaurants and some of the smaller we-can-do-this-without-breaking-the-budget on nights when no one can face cooking. I asked my favorite place, why they hadn’t joined and they said it was just too damn expensive.
This weekend I went to try a new place for visiting guests with a particular desire/habit/whatever. The new restaurant wasn’t on OpenTable, but their website directed me to this letter from another restaurant called “Is OpenTable worth it?”
Let me start by stating the obvious: the convenience and immediacy of booking a table online anytime day or night is beneficial to both diners and to restaurants….
It’s possible, however, for convenience to come at too dear a price. I don’t mean that only as it relates to the short-term economic price, but also in the sense that sometimes, what may at first seem like a straightforward benefit can in fact require the sacrifice of something much more precious over the long run.
Their argument comes down to something familiar. OpenTable has 90% of the national restaurant reservation business. The customers/diners don’t pay for the service, the restaurants do, and they pay and pay. For big chains, it becomes part of the cost of business. For small venues (as in local bookstores), it costs more and more, and probably doesn’t deliver more, just keeps you from losing. It’s the Red Queen all over again- running as hard as you can to stay in place.
I know that supporting local endeavours is very much a first world problem. I know that grad students usually can’t afford to eat out as much as they would like. But, there is something wonderful about the non-chain entities in our lives. I leave you with these words from Incanto (a restaurant I’ve never been to):
In the meantime, the next time you’re planning to dine out, consider picking up that 19th-century device, the telephone, and calling. I know I speak for many restaurateurs when I say that we’d love to hear your voice.