How online reservation services changed the dining scene in Toronto
If you want to book a table in Toronto, you usually have to go online. That's because services such as OpenTable, based in the United States, and Toronto's YP Dine have largely cornered the reservation market in the city.
These services make it easy to grab a table and take the stress out of calling multiple restaurants to try to secure dinner reservations.
Pantelly Damoulianos co-founded the reservation service dine.TO back in 2002. Yellow Pages bought his business in 2014 along with the Quebec-based company Bookenda.
He's now the Brand Director at the Yellow Pages's YP Dine (its consolidated reservation system) and knows the ins-and-outs of online reservation services in the city.
Since the early 2000s, he's seen them grow in popularity and thinks they're beneficial for both diners and restaurateurs. He says they not only help restaurants fill tables, but they also help them gain insight about their customers and track cancellations and no-shows.
Yet, Damoulianos says that even though YP Dine sends out reminders to those who've booked tables, not everyone honours their reservations.
During big events such as Winterlicious, as well as on Fridays and Saturdays, no-show rates can rise up to around 30 per cent.
While YP Dine and OpenTable restrict diners from making multiple reservations at once, Damoulianos explains customers often skirt these these limitations.
In a party of six for instance, each diner will make a different reservation and at the last minute, they'll actually choose where to eat.
YP Dine currently has around 500 restaurants onboard in Toronto and 1,500 Canada-wide. And trends are shifting for who's signing up.
“In the beginning it was more of a fine dining restaurant scene,” he says. “Now you see a lot more casual restaurants using reservation systems.”
One of those casual spots is Otto's Bierhalle, a restaurant and beer hall in West Queen West.
“At the beginning, a lot of people were coming at the same time and we were turning a lot of people away, so we thought it would be more convenient for people,” says co-owner Konrad Droeske about why he and his team decided to start taking reservations.
These two organizations both have hosts and hostesses call patrons to confirm their reservations - it might be pesky, but it does add a bit more humanity to the whole reservation process.
As Mark Pupo wrote in Toronto Life, sometimes it seems like it's impossible to use online services to book tables at popular restaurants during prime dinner times.
At Baro, says assistant general manager Steve Baert, they don't take reservations between 7 and 9 p.m. from Thursday to Saturday.
“We try and limit the amount of reservations we take per day so that there is an opportunity for people to walk in off the street and at least sit at the bar or in one of our hot seats,” he says, noting that this helps maintain a better, more fun vibe at Baro.
Damoulianos says restaurants choose which tables get listed online and the reservation system works around these parameters.
And if you can't find any tables at your first choice restaurant, these systems do make it easy to search for other options because who want to wait in line, right?
Jesse Milns at Terroni
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