OpenTable Mobile – Great Concept, Poor Execution

OpenTable Search FormI love OpenTable.  If you aren’t familiar with the service, it’s an online search for available reservations at local restaurants.  You select your city, preferred  dinning time, the size of your party and optionally the neighborhood and cuisine and OpenTable returns a list all the restaurants that have availability.  It such a time saver compared with calling up restaurant after restaurant, being put on hold for five minutes and then being told “Sorry we have nothing available at that time”.

The site is very popular here in the San Francisco Bay area and seems to be taking off elsewhere too.  VentureBeat reports that OpenTable books reservations for 3 million diners per month and estimates the company’s annual gross revenue at $14 million a year.  The service is free to consumers, restaurants pay a fee per diner to OpenTable.  It must be cost effective for restaurateurs, 8500 have signed up.

OpenTable just launched  a mobile site. This is such a great fit for mobile. Now you don’t even need to be near a computer to make reservations quickly and easily. At least that’s the promise. I just tried it out and successfully made a reservation on  OpenTable mobile.  The process worked but it has a few rough edges.

I started at by picking  San Francisco Bay Area from a drop down list of metropolitan areas and then San Francisco proper from a second drop down. On the next page I entered the size of my party and desired date and pressed the Search button.  That’s when my problems started.  OpenTable brought of a list of all the 341 restaurants that it covers in San Francisco – as a single 144 KB mobile page!  OpenTable Results ListI was using Open Mini so the page actually loaded but there is no way that 90% of mobile browsers could handle such a big page.  But the worst part is that because I was searching for a table on short notice, three quarters of the restaurants listed “No Times Available”.  The full version of OpenTable on the web only lists restaurants that you can actually make a reservation at, why should if be any other way on mobile?  Scrolling through the entire list to find all the available restaurants required hitting the “Page Down” key 47 times, not an enjoyable experience.

Once  I picked a restaurant things got better.  All I had to do was enter my name, email address and phone number and I had a reservation.  OpenTable displayed restaurant details including the address and a usable map, but not the restaurant’s phone number, a strange omission for a mobile phone application. Canceling a reservation is as simple as clicking a button.

There’s a “My Reservations” page in mobile OpenTable where you can see details of your upcoming reservations.  It worked immediately after I made my reservation but when I went back to later it said that I had no upcoming reservations.  Probably a cookie issue but there really should be a way to search for reservations using the email address that you made your reservation under.

The problems I had with OpenTable mobile, while serious from a usability point of view, should be relatively easy to fix.  The most important change needed is to split the results list up into multiple pages of about 10 KB each and to filter out the restaurants with no availability. Adding a click to call phone number to the restaurant details and providing  a way to search for existing reservations that doesn’t depend on cookies would be nice to have as well.  I’m looking forward to using OpenTable again.  Hopefully the next time I do the experience will be a lot better.

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Ratings: Content: ***** Usability: XX___

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