Why one new Times Square restaurant isn’t sweating opening day
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When the Alicart Restaurant Group partnered with Mermaid Oyster Bar to open a new 15,000-square-foot restaurant in Times Square, CEO Jeffrey Bank knew it could be a blockbuster success, joining the ranks of Alicart’s wildly successful Carmine’s and Virgil’s Real Barbecue brands. But with more than twice the number of seats as Mermaid’s other restaurants, Bank also knew to succeed, the 550-seat restaurant had to be busy from day 1.
“People bring people. In a restaurant this size, even 100 people in the restaurant would still feel like crickets,” says Bank. Past Alicart openings told him there was one sure way to guarantee a bustling restaurant from the start: OpenTable.
Bank recalls opening Carmine’s Las Vegas and seeing more than a thousand reservations on the books before they even opened the doors for the first time, thanks to people booking through the OpenTable app.
Mermaid Oyster Bar is already well known among New Yorkers. But Bank says there are many other groups OpenTable will bring to the restaurant. Namely, tourists. “OpenTable will let them know about Mermaid Oyster Bar right when they’re searching for a place to eat nearby.”
He knows from experience that people rely on OpenTable to find restaurants when they aren’t familiar with a city. Bank does it himself.
“When I’m traveling, if I know I’m looking for seafood, I open my OpenTable app and put in seafood for 4 people tonight,’’ he says. Every day, he meets guests streaming through the doors of Carmine’s and Virgil’s who found the restaurant through an OpenTable search. “The amount of people that are searching for restaurants on the OpenTable app is astronomical,” he says.
But a bustling restaurant is only good if shifts run like clockwork. To that end, Bank expects OpenTable to play the same vital role it has at Carmine’s and Virgil’s.
Across the restaurant group, managers rely on guest profiles and preshift reporting to systematize personal hospitality. Even if a guest goes years between visits, pre-shift notes prompt servers and managers to welcome them by name.
Bank says operations before, during, and after a service run more smoothly because of technology. “When you’ve got 500 seats in one restaurant and 800 at another, I don’t care how good the maître d’s are, there’s no way they could stay on top of this without a little help from OpenTable to figure out how many seats we need and what the turn times are really going to be,” he says.
Another aspect that helps Alicart run like a well-oiled machine is OpenTable’s reliability and ease of use. Bank recalls a reservation system the restaurant once used crashing and learning there was no backup. Bank has trusted OpenTable ever since, and it’s allowed him to focus on hospitality and not glitchy software. “OpenTable never crashes,” he says.
This reliability goes hand-in-hand with the ease of use that allows managers to keep their attention where it belongs: on guests and on the floor.
“OpenTable allows my team to maintain eye contact with guests instead of staring at a buggy screen and trying to figure out what happened to this reservation,” says Bank.
As Alicart prepares to launch Mermaid Oyster Bar Times Square, Bank knows OpenTable will fuel success for the new restaurant on opening day and years into the future. Bank sees OpenTable as a partner more than anything else. “Taking reservations is really just a function of the relationship we have,” says Bank.
Alicart also relies on OpenTable to promote its private dining program and help fill slow times. But it’s the marketing boost and operational support that Bank appreciates most over time.
“OpenTable is going to help us fill the room with new diners and I’m going to be able to convert them with the quality of our food and service into long-term regulars,” says Bank.
Jeffrey Bank, CEO
Alicart Restaurant Group
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