Side Dishes: Why local restaurants are taking reservations online
Next time you stop at your favorite restaurant, expect to be greeted by a server who already knows your food allergies and inquires after the health of your Great Dane.
OK, maybe not — yet. But restaurants using services such as OpenTable , which allows people to make reservations online, may have all that info and more.
Vermonters may associate booking services with fancy, big-city restaurants where people have to fight to score seats. After all, isn’t it more neighborly to speak with a host on the telephone?
Not according to Steve Sawyer, owner of Table 24 Restaurant  in Rutland, who began using the reservation system at OpenTable.com about four months ago. His eatery is one of 21 in the state currently subscribing to the service, which charges a monthly fee plus a cut of each online reservation made.
What makes OpenTable worth the price? Sawyer explains that it isn’t just a tool for taking reservations; it’s also a database program that lets him store customer email addresses — useful for sending out newsletters and special offers — and other key information. “If somebody has a great meal or, more importantly, a bad one, we’ll know what’s going on next time they make a reservation,” he says.
Plus, now that the online service has replaced “the little scraps of paper” staffers used to use, Sawyer believes the dining room is running more smoothly. And that benefits locals and out-of-towners alike. “We come off as more polished,” he says.
Allison Freeman, assistant manager of Pauline’s Café  in South Burlington, also loves how OpenTable can put customer information at chef’s fingertips. “It’s great for the kitchen, because they can print out the reservation list and know what time of night they’ll be busy,” she says.
Pauline’s started using OpenTable last summer, in part to help out-of-towners, including the families of UVM students, find the restaurant and book tables easily. “It just took off,” says Freeman, who adds that it’s easy to use.
The folks at Simon Pearce Restaurant  are OpenTable experts. They’ve been using the reservation software for five years. “I believe we were the first restaurant in Vermont to use OpenTable,” attests Anton Vicar, director of Quechee restaurant operations.
Like Pauline’s and Table 24, Simon Pearce turned to OpenTable as a way to lure out-of-towners. The system allows customers to make reservations at 1 a.m. or from a smartphone at the airport. Now, Vicar estimates, about 25 percent of the restaurant’s bookings come through OpenTable.
Like Freeman and Sawyer, Vicar is particularly enthusiastic about the handy database. “The information we have on our guests allows us to give them a better experience. We know where they like to sit, their likes and dislikes, the names of people’s children, their dogs, their cats,” he says. “It’s stuff that allows you to do your job better. ”