opentable toronto

Toronto restaurants seek alternatives to pricey reservation service OpenTable

If you're trying to make a dinner reservation online, chances are you'll be using OpenTable to do it. 

Toronto alone has more than 400 restaurants using the massive online reservation mobile app (it's the largest in the world, covering more than 30,000 establishments worldwide) allowing diners to pre-book their meals in advance, all with a click of a mouse.

But while the service might be convenient for customers, OpenTable can be extremely costly for restaurant operators. 

On top of around $200 dollars in monthly fees, the website also charges restaurants per seated guest: up to $2 per head, depending on how they book. The cost adds up, and it's making some Toronto business owners seek cheaper alternatives. 

"They've had a monopoly on the reservation system for a long time, but now that technology is getting better there are more alternatives," says Erik Joyal, the co-owner of several notable restaurants like Ascari Enoteca and Gare De L'est

Joyal switched over all his restaurants' systems to a new up-and-coming powerhouse site called Resy just two months ago, after 13 years of being a loyal OpenTable client. 

The savings have been dramatic: according to Joyal, his restaurants are now paying around a quarter of what they were paying before. 

What once cost nearly $1,000 per month in OpenTable reservation fees to arrange bookings for the 38-seater Ascari now only costs $250 for a monthly flat-rate with Resy, says Joyal. 

"As a small restaurant, it's tough out there...the competition is tough, rents are going up, taxes are going up, cost of product is going up, labour is going up, it never stops," he says.

"At a certain point you have to ask, where can I take some money back." 

OpenTable might have revolutionized the reservation system at the height of the dot-com boom (it's been operating since 1998), but new competitors cropping up are slowly making their way into Toronto's restaurant scene. 

opentable toronto

Restaurants like Patois opt for alternative online booking services to OpenTable like YP Dine's Bookenda. Photo by Jesse Milns.

ResDiary, for instance, has the business of all the Duke Pubs in Toronto, while YP Dine's Bookenda is the preferred software of restaurants like Patois

And then there's the Canadian-based service DINR, which specializes in same-day reservations, with a roster of well-known restaurants like Alo, La Palma, Piano Piano, and Antler

At this point, online reservations are non-negotiable, as are the pitfalls of online booking, most notably the conundrum of no-shows. 

"I think the biggest issue with digital bookings is that it adds a flippancy to reservations," says Sophie Kaftel, owner of the popular high tea spot Kitten and The Bear, which still uses OpenTable.

One thing that Kaftel says she likes about OpenTable is its four-strike policy, which allows the app to terminate user accounts if they fail to show up for four reservations within 12 months. 

It's a good deterrent for people trying to book a coveted spot at her tiny, three-table, 10-seater restaurant. While Resy's guidelines discourage no-shows, it doesn't have a set number of strikes when it comes to user termination. 

Only time will tell if the other reservation services will catch up to OpenTable's more robust, but pricier, platform. 

"I think any restaurant operator will tell you that [OpenTable] is expensive," says Joyal. "But whether or not Resy is a reliable long term solution to OpenTable has yet to be seen." 

Lead photo by

Hector Vasquez of Gare De L'Est

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