The Ins and Out of Opentable: Getting Rebates for Online Restaurant Reservations

Opentable secrets: Opentable is an online service for making restaurant reservations. It’s the market leader in the space, you can search for a specific restaurant and make a booking or search an area and find restaurants that have availability for when you’d like to eat, near where you want to eat, and for the number of people in your party.

What’s more they offer loyalty points, most of the time you earn 100 points for a booking, that’s worth $1 because 2000 points can be redeemed for a $20 gift certificate for dining at any restaurant listed on Opentable. Greater numbers of points can be redeemed for larger gift checks, but it’s still at that same redemption ratio. So it’s always a good idea to redeem points as soon as you have enough, and use the certificates right away.

Some restaurants offer 1000 points instead of 100 for making a booking — often it’s new or struggling restaurants, they’re willing to incentivize the visit. The idea is you might see they’re more rewarding and decide to book them instead of a competitor.

Interestingly, some restaurants use Opentable to manage their own website’s online bookings. But if you visit those restaurants’ websites first, cookies may get left on your computer that interfere with points. (If you make your reservation through Opentable, but starting at the restaurant’s website, there’s usually no points-earning).

And with 1000 point restaurants, you usually only see the 1000 point offer if you are searching for restaurants in a neighborhood — if you search for the restaurant directly it will usually just show 100 points (since they don’t need to incentivize you to choose them, the idea being you likely already have chosen them).

I have the Opentable app on my phone (and before I had an Android phone, would visit the Opentable mobile website on my Blackberry). Walking to a restaurant I might make a reservation, even if I know the place is empty. Not planning ahead, but I still want to capture the points. And of course the points are stackable with other restaurant rewards such as Rewards Network, the company which manages the dining programs associated with airline and hotel chains (which I still insist on calling iDine, though at least got beyond referring to it as Transmedia..).

Do note that Opentable doesn’t have access to all tables. Some restaurants ‘block’ key times from being booked via Opentable, I have to imagine it’s because it costs them money (to pay to Opentable) to take reservations that way, and they expect to be able to fill their seats without bringing in reservations through this channel. So you need to call the restaurant. SitInFirst says that he will often then make the reservation for an earlier time, ring up the restaurant to change the time of his booking, and still get the points. This works if the restaurant changes the reservation time (because it was still made through Opentable) but not if they cancel the reservation and make a new one .

SitInFirst notes that many hotel restaurants offer Opentable points. Even if he gets free breakfast in the restaurant as a loyalty program member or because of his rate at the property, he’ll make an Opentable booking at the hotel restaurant and earn points with Opentable even for free/included breakfast.

If you hit 12 reservations in a year through Opentable, you become an Opentable VIP. I love status. I chase status. But in my experience there are no benefits whatsoever to Opentable VIP status. There are absolutely no published benefits. It’s possible, and some people claim, that a restaurant manager will see the designation and pay extra attention, presumably just because of the signal that the person eats out a lot so it’s potential future business. But the status doesn’t entitle you to anything.

It’s important to keep the reservations you’ve booked, or cancel them if you aren’t going to keep them (even in the minutes leading up to the booking time). Because enough no show reservations will lead to an account being banned from the system, although it’s not clear to me what would stop you from opening a new account. Three no shows used to be enough to get kicked off, but it’s not clear to me that it’s a defined threshold any longer.

Sometimes it’s a bit awkward walking into an otherwise-empty restaurant and having to point out to them that you have a reservation, but you want it o be logged to ensure your points post and also to avoid appearing to Opentable as a no show.

I track my Opentable points at Award Wallet but admit I don’t pay close attention to them, writing this post reminds me that I need to redeem for a $20 gift certificate.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. FYI, here is how the economics work for OpenTable restaurants.

    For every person who shows up for a 100-point reservation, the restaurant pays $1.00.

    For every person who shows up for a 1,000-point reservation, the restaurant pays $7.50.

  2. Use the opentable- concierge. It allows ou to make reservations for yourself, other people and you also don’t get penalized if someone cancels it. I am a concierge, and use the program. I just cashed in $600

  3. I have made multiple OpenTable reservations that I did not end up showing up at; plans change. I have received the points for these ‘dines’ in all but two cases. In these cases, the points were not awarded, and I received emails kindly asking me to cancel with the restaurant int he future. But 90%+ of the time they will award you the points.

  4. I always call/ e mail if I have to cancel.
    Also, you can’t Opentable for solo visits. Must be 2 people.

    Currently sitting on a $100 cert (10,000 points).

  5. I always book it for two and then just show up solo if I’m dining alone.

    The app is really nice, very easy to cancel a reservation.

    I like that it manages my dining calendar for times when I’m traveling and have several bookings in a week. I like the system a lot.

  6. Some restaurants allow you to book for one some don’t. As beachfan said if it’s two I book for two and show up solo. Where you are required to have two is the 1000 point tables. The certificates expire one year from date of issue.

  7. About half the time I book at OpenTable and go to the restaurant, I don’t get points for showing up. Anyone else have this problem? Does this mean the restaurant is just neglecting to acknowledge I showed up/reducing their fees to OpenTable?

  8. As far as restaurants blocking times on OpenTable, in my experience the chef or a knowledgeable bar manager will reduce the number of available tables at key times to avoid long waits at the door. Rarely do restaurants have their OpenTable accounts set up in a reasonable manner, allowing for physical impossibilities like the entire restaurant being reseated every 30 minutes.
    Of course allowing for overbooking is really just a necessity in a world where people regularly don’t show up for their reservations- a solid 10-15% no show on a busy night in Chicago.

  9. In my experience, they will permit solo dines for 100 point reservations, but not 1000. And I will admit to walking in the hall of the Boston Hyatt and the Boston Harborside Hyatt, and the Park Hyatt Chicago, amongst others, making 100 reservations for breakfast while walking down that hall – and then getting free Diamond Breakfast.

  10. In addition to the per diner fees that Rocky provides, restaurants pay OT a fairly hefty monthly “membership” fee.

    Many restaurants are local, small businesses trying hard to make a living for the owners and the staff while providing an enjoyable experience for the diners. If you really want to support your community, stop chasing OT points as these are expensive to the restaurant. Book your reservation through the restaurant’s own website.

    Unfortunately, OT is becoming the TicketMaster of dining – eventually the restaurants will have no choice but to play the game. (That is, until someone like Brown Paper Tickets starts booking dining reservations)

  11. As open table VIP I typically get a reserved table at a prime spot (with a nifty reserved card and all). Not always, but I get it fairly often.

  12. Some restaurants participate in OT, UA MP Dining, and have certs. Use my Chase Sapphire Preferred and get OT points, UA miles, UR points, and $$ off the bill.

  13. In my experience, the more a restaurant participates in gimmicks like offering extra OpenTable points, accepting certificates, and advertising buy-one-get-one-free offers, the worse the food and service. It’s just not worth it to save a few dollars on a $100 meal, if the meal turns out to be awful.

  14. Thanks for reminding me about OT. I just had 100 pts expire but there are a half dozen restaurants on the list that I regularly go to. Now to find the 1000pt time slots.

  15. I realize this post is old but I’ll add this info:
    1. Solo dines count the same as dining with multiple people. I still get the points.

    2. You can solo dine for 1000 pts as well.

  16. I 2nd what Shane wrote, because I have tried it myself, and dine solo quite frequently, especially lunch times.

    @Helena Smith: If the restaurant is charged a buck for your reservation, you have to think: which is better? Paying $1 for a reservation or no reservation at all?

    They knew what industry they were getting into, and we both get something out of the deal. PLUS, when compared to Groupons, the waitstaff isn’t shafted because someone forgot to tip on the “pre-discounted” price, so it’s actually a bargain.

  17. As a restaurant owner, I accept online reservations with open table through one of my businesses. And yes, the fees are hefty. $199 a month for rental on the equipment etc. plus the reservations fees, which are $1 per person if seated through open table and .50 per person if seated through a link on your own website, facebook etc. About 2/3 of our online reservations come from our own website though a link to open table. Thankfully.

    So it is very huge expense for small restaurants. Our open table expense averages $500 a month. They have a monopoly on the online reservations leaving us no choice.

  18. I own a restaurant. My goodness. Does everything have to be a hustle? Whatever happened to frequenting your local eatery because the food, ambiance and service please you. Restaurants are easy to find online. Just call us and make a reservation. Our profit margin is very thin. Handing over close to $400 a month to OT is a lot of money to us and yes it’s quickly becoming the only game in town. Join or perish.

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