The Lost Kitchen in Freedom, Maine made a bold move last year. Instead of taking reservations digitally, or even over the phone, they required potential diners to mail in a 3x5 index card with their contact details; the cards needed to be postmarked between March 31st and April 10th. Chef/owner Erin French assumed that without the convenience of technology, she’d receive far fewer requests than the 10,000 phone calls she’d had to field in 2017. So how many people applied to snag one of the 40-45 nightly seats for the 2018 nine-month season? Try 20,000! Cards were then randomly chosen, and a lucky few were able to enjoy an unforgettable meal in a cozy, rustic dining room tucked away over a bridge and past a waterfall.
In the restaurant reservation landscape, French’s method is unorthodox, and OpenTable is the top dog. Since being purchased in 2014 by Booking Holdings, Inc. for $2.6 billion, OpenTable has only continued its ascent, seating more than 26 million diners monthly through online reservations. Resy is a fierce competitor, though, recently acquiring industry heavy hitter Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group. Still, other platforms are up and coming, including Yelp, I Know the Chef, Reserve and entirely restaurant driven systems like The Lost Kitchen.
Restaurant operators take many factors into consideration when choosing a reservation system, chief among them being cost. OpenTable can be an expensive option, especially for small businesses, but that cost can be rationalized with the increased exposure belonging to OpenTable can provide. Resy, on the other hand, is more affordable, but may be less of an accessible database for diners not yet decided on where to eat. Meanwhile, The Lost Kitchen’s anachronistic approach seems to have actually increased demand for reservations, by simultaneously making the process simple, yet exclusive.
Though prestige wasn’t the goal, The Lost Kitchen decided that a handwritten note, and maybe a personalized drawing or painting, made its reservation system more intimate and manageable. French wanted to keep a semblance of the local Maine character she loves while making her customers happy. So whatever reservation method you choose for your restaurant, make sure it not only supports your business goals, but also reflects your philosophy and brand.