“I’m all in because you’re all in,” said OpenTable CEO Christa Quarles in her introductory call to action at the first ever Innovation Summit in the company’s hometown of San Francisco. On a beautiful March day, industry luminaries and the OpenTable team came together in a light-filled space in the Dogpatch neighborhood to talk innovation and what’s happening in the restaurant business — here in the Bay Area and on the nationwide stage.
After all, San Francisco is where it all began for OpenTable nearly 20 years ago, and many of the Summit’s attendees were among the first set of customers on the platform. Now with years of experience with OpenTable, they are integral to the city’s culinary landscape.
Beyond the Bay Area, Quarles took to the road in her first two years as CEO, traveling around the world listening to restaurant customers. During the course of this tour de restaurants, she heard three common drum beats: “You’re expensive, you steal my diners, you don’t innovate.” In the programming and content of the Summit itself, from a diverse set of presentations that ranged in topic from creating a culture of hospitality and where your diners come from to the future of the product and the industry, we set out to debunk these particular beliefs.
Cool to Care: Creating A Culture of Hospitality
In an inspiring introduction about hospitality and how it scales, Quarles chatted with Anthony Rudolf, of Co.create NYC, and Will Guidara of the Welcome Conference (and Eleven Madison Park co-owner), tackled a myth of their own — the widespread front-of-the-house mentality that you can’t teach hospitality.
“You absolutely can encourage it,” said Guidara. “Unless you know what it’s like to receive graciousness, you’re never going to be inspired to give it. It just needs to be cool to care.”
Rudolf and Guidara, beacons of inspiration in the industry, shared the story of how they began as rival GM’s at Thomas Keller’s Per Se and Eleven Madison Park, respectively, and one day discovered how shared their experiences and challenges were. From a walking conversation to co-founding a TED-esque conference for the restaurant industry, the pair has helped lead the conversation about creating a culture of true hospitality — and what that means in practice in your restaurant.
But hospitality extends outside the restaurant into everything we do. Speaking to the environment at OpenTable, Quarles added, “Culture is how you make decisions when you’re not in the room.”
“In hospitality, if we’re authentic, we have the opportunity to dream about the world that we wished existed — and create it,” said Will, a quote that gave the room full of restaurateurs, chefs, and front-of-house staff all the feels.
No Secret Sauce: Millennials, Social Media, and How Diners Find Your Restaurant
Restaurant review platform The Infatuation has been a beacon of cool for hungry millennials since its inception eight years ago. Co-founder Andrew Steinthal dug into the story behind the millennial diner, unpacking what that means for restaurants eager to capture this audience.
“People are hungry for cool stuff,” Steinthal said, referring to the data and insights the company collects from their Text Rex messaging service, which basically allows diners to text a human concierge a request for a restaurant recommendation in real-time. “Experiences,” “casual,” and “situational discovery” are what it’s all about in this audience — and, of course, “social is the currency of cool.”
So how does a restaurant tap into the social capital they could be capturing by attracting millennial diners on social media? Marne Levine, COO of Instagram, took the stage with Quarles to break down how to make the most of your Instagram presence as a restaurant without a devoted social marketing team.
“We’re trying to create the kindest, most inclusive community,” Levine explained. “There is obviously no secret sauce, but there are some really great best practices here. I am deeply empathetic to the fact that you have a lot going on. The good news is, if you do put in the effort, you can actually get the rewards. And the rewards are real business results.”
Sharing performance numbers and trend insights, Levine suggested the following Instagram best practices for restaurants:
1. Adopt a business profile.
2. Instagram stories are where people are going — and most people are watching with the sound on!
3. Business is personal, so be authentic. Turn the story on yourself, as the simple, daily activities of running a restaurant are engaging to people interested in what goes on behind the scenes at their favorite places to eat.
From social marketing by restaurants to how OpenTable acts a marketing engine on their behalf, Scott Jampol, OpenTable SVP of Marketing, gave a behind-the-scenes walkthrough of his own, detailing where diners come from when they make a reservation. “When you think about being listed on OpenTable, it’s actually a marketing position — fifty-five percent of your diners come directly to OpenTable,” Jampol explained.
He left the audience with a quote from Bill Chait of Tartine: “For those hoping for a better marketing spend, how many sixty-dollar-per-plate diners are they willing to give up to save the one-dollar cover fee?” (To learn more about how OpenTable is marketing for your restaurant, check out the breakdown.)
Shop Talk: Innovation and the Future of the Industry
From an in-depth explanation of the latest features within the OpenTable tools, such as GuestCenter and the iPhone app for managers, to a spirited conversation between Rudolf and San Francisco chef influencers Traci Des Jardins, Charles Phan, Thomas McNaughton, and Shelley Lindgren, the day ended on an educational note.
Product details were shared, and the chefs spoke about labor laws, rising costs of doing business in San Francisco, your staff as your best PR, and pressing the local government to advocate for change. The dialogue was open, candid, and forward-looking — exactly the objective of the day itself.
Photo credit: Bonphotage.