Founded in 1998 by Chuck Templeton, OpenTable is how more than 20 million people book their dining reservations every month. Having come a long way since the company’s early days — when only establishments in San Francisco were served — OpenTable now provides reservations for around 40,000 restaurants, including locations in Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico and the United Kingdom. Not only does this remain a free service to diners, but OpenTable also holds its own in providing users with rewards points, which they can redeem for Dining Rewards.
Last month, OpenTable released its “Best Places To Dine Like A Celebrity” list. Its New York selections included Balthazar, Catch, Emilio’s Ballato, Fowler & Wells, Le Coucou, The Polo Bar, Sant Ambroeus SoHo, The Spotted Pig, Upland, and Vandal. While those selections speak for themselves, Downtown wanted to learn more about OpenTable’s operations and had the pleasure of speaking with Caroline Potter, the company’s Chief Dining Officer. Caroline is not only full of great dining recommendations — herself being a trained chef — yet also wit.
For more on all things OpenTable, visit www.opentable.com.
You trained as a chef at Manhattan’s French Culinary Institute. Did you work at restaurants after that?
Caroline Potter: I actually worked at restaurants before that, most of my teen to adult life, on and off. My first job was as a busboy; I was the only girl on that team, so that’s what they called me! Over the course of the years, I did everything from bussing and serving to bartending and hostessing. At the French Culinary Institute, students had to spend time cooking at L’Ecole, the student-run restaurant, and it gave me great admiration and respect for the folks who work the back of the house.
How did you start/wind up with OpenTable?
CP: After graduating culinary school, I volunteered at the New York City Greenmarket, and I wound up helping with their newsletters. I met the then-editor of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan there, and I began writing for those publications. From there, a friend who worked in wine writing recommended me for this opportunity at OpenTable.
Had you ever heard of a “Chief Dining Officer” title before working with OpenTable?
CP: I had not. The title was coined by Shannon Stubo Brayton, who headed up the comms team at OpenTable at the time. She’s now the CMO at LinkedIn, so she remains as clever as ever.
Do you remember the first time you ever used OpenTable? And where you booked a reservation for?
CP: It was in 2003, but I can’t remember what restaurant it was at, as I had a different account back then with a different email associated with it, I believe! I’ll have to have someone on our support team look it up for me. (laughs)
What is a typical day for you like at OpenTable?
CP: I would love to say I spend my days dining out, but like most people, I spend a lot of time at my laptop — writing and/or editing blog content, selecting and sizing photos, answering emails, collaborating with our acquisition and engagement teams in San Francisco, and working with our social media specialist on social content for our channels, including social video, which has been really fun for us and the participating restaurants. We hear a lot from our restaurant partners and the OpenTable field team, and we work with them to support their needs, whether it be promoting a restaurant on Instagram, crafting tweets around an event, or featuring them on our blog.
What does it take for an establishment to sign with OpenTable? Is the company always seeking new establishments, or is there criteria to come onboard?
CP: Any restaurant can join OpenTable, and there are a variety of solutions available to them. For example, they can use GuestCenter, our guest and floor-management solution, or a simpler option, OpenTable Connect, which lists a restaurant on OpenTable.com.
On average, how many meals out do you have per week? Or do you make an effort to cook more because of your industry?
CP: I love to cook, but I usually reserve that for the weekends. I prefer to dine out on weeknights as I find it’s a more chill experience and there’s a lot more availability. Tuesday is the new Saturday, as I like to say. Some weeks will be four nights, others one or two depending on my schedule — and how my skinny jeans are fitting.
OpenTable responsibilities aside, do you have a favorite restaurant in New York?
CP: My favorite restaurant in New York, and beyond, is Bâtard in Tribeca. Chef Markus Glocker and managing partner John Winterman have created this perfect “choose your own adventure” dining experience at incredible prices — you can do two, three, four or more courses. The food is elegant, accessible, and sublimely-delicious. I’m obsessed with their English pie, but, honestly, everything is so flavorful and balanced – and beautiful, from the duck to the pastas to that now-iconic octopus pastrami. I honestly never really understood the appeal of schnitzel until I had Chef Glocker’s. It’s a revelation of juicy goodness. Winterman will build you a killer cheese plate, too. Meaghan Levy mixes a perfect martini, and wine director Jason Jacobeit will introduce you to the magic of Burgundy wines at a price that won’t break the bank. And the atmosphere is ideal — buzzy, flattering lighting, unfussy. It’s the place to go to have a great time any time, so don’t be surprised to find me there a LOT!
Any upcoming events or promotions coming up for OpenTable?
CP: At OpenTable, we’re proud to partner with No Kid Hungry to help end childhood hunger in America and it’s Taste Of The Nation season. The San Francisco event took place recently, and there are a bunch coming up in cities around the nation, including New York on Apr. 24. It’s a wonderful way to help support a truly worthy cause.
Is there something you wish more people knew about OpenTable?
CP: OpenTable is a great restaurant discovery tool. If you ever find yourself in a neighborhood or city — or country — you’re not familiar with, pop open the app and let it show you delicious options that are right around you. You can read verified reviews from diners who have actually dined at the restaurants they’ve reviewed, see menus, and more. So even if you’re feeling lost, we can help you find your next great meal.
When not busy with OpenTable, how do you like to spend your free time?
CP: Dining, drinking vodka martinis, gardening, sailing, and hanging with my dogs and my husband.
Any upcoming articles in the works?
CP: Look out for them at http://blog.opentable.com.
Finally, Caroline, any last words for the kids?
CP: In our eating for the Insta society, I like to remind diners to revisit their favorites. Restaurants operate on narrow profit margins — Manhattan restaurants in particular, thanks to skyrocketing commercial rents — and they depend on regular customers to stay in business. There’s nothing sadder than seeing a beloved eatery shutter only to have a chain retail store or bank take its place. Restaurants help create the character and community of a neighborhood. Support them with repeat business.