In November, the managers of Vernick took a risk that could have cost the Center City restaurant as many as 15 percent of its reservations: They moved online bookings from OpenTable to Tock, a platform that at the time was used by no other restaurant in Philadelphia.
But reservations kept coming in by phone and through Vernick’s website, where customers click a link that now takes them to Tock instead of OpenTable.
“It has not dipped at all," said general manager Ryan Mulholland.
Launched in 1998 and used by more than 50,000 restaurants around the world, OpenTable has long had a monopoly on online bookings. And many restaurateurs say competitors like Tock are no match for OpenTable, which seats an estimated 28 million diners a month and offers a level of exposure that is particularly valuable in the early days of a restaurant.
But some of the city’s hottest restaurants don’t need much help filling tables, and they are starting to be lured away by smaller, less expensive platforms.
Since Vernick Food and Drink opened in 2012, chef Greg Vernick has won a James Beard Award and announced two more restaurants. The switch to Tock was motivated by the lower cost, Mulholland said, and faith that business wouldn’t suffer from switching to a lesser-known platform.
“OpenTable certainly got us going,” Mulholland said. “But the cost associated with it, we realized that at this point we were in a position where we could reinvest some of that back into our restaurant and our staff.”
Next month, highly coveted reservations for the James Beard Award-winning Zahav will move to SevenRooms, a system also used by West Chester’s Andiario. Abe Fisher, also part of Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook’s CookNSolo group, is remaining on OpenTable. But a company representative said that could change as the group opens more restaurants.
“CookNSolo is a growing company, and we need a reservation system that can manage all of our restaurants under one roof," Cook said in an email.
Many who moved to other platforms cited the cost of doing business with OpenTable: $199 a month, plus $1 per person at each reservation booked through OpenTable, and 25 cents per seated diner who reserved using a link on the restaurant’s website. Resy and Tock charge monthly fees of about $200 with no added charge for reservations.
Scott Morozin, chef and owner of the 30-seat Kennett Square BYOB Verbena, said that OpenTable could cost $1,000 a month, and that the software sometimes had glitches, preventing customers from booking tables. He recently signed up for Tock.
“OpenTable is like the IBM of these systems,” he said. “They’ve been around the longest, they have the biggest reach, and they are the standard. But I think some restaurateurs are figuring out that it doesn’t have to be the same way it always has been.”
In the last six months, 55 Philadelphia restaurants have joined Resy. Since the New York system bought competitor Reserve in November, the company has sought to expand its footprint in Philadelphia, Resy spokeswoman Lauren Young said. Last week, the company added a Philadelphia section to its home page.
Restaurants V Street and Vedge switched to Resy this year after owners Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby determined that most reservations were made by phone or through their website, not OpenTable.
“It was a concern for us at first,” Jacoby said. “What if someone doesn’t want to download another app or doesn’t want to give out their information to another site? But we were willing to take the risk that our restaurant was special enough for people to find it.”
OpenTable remains the juggernaut: The number of Philadelphia metropolitan area restaurants using the platform has increased by about 51 percent since 2014. All Stephen Starr restaurants use it, as do Michael Schulson’s and Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran’s.
Andrea Johnston, chief operating officer for OpenTable, said that although some patrons log on to OpenTable with a specific restaurant in mind, others, like tourists, rely on it to find places based on factors like the neighborhood or cuisine.
“That side of OpenTable is geared toward diners who don’t know where they want to go,” she said. “That’s the marketing engine behind it, and it’s a powerful tool.”
Shawn Darragh, co-owner of Cheu Noodle Bar, Cheu Fishtown, Bing Bing Dim Sum, and Nunu, said that after Resy acquired Reserve and started converting the software, there were problems with lost reservations and system crashes. They switched to OpenTable in January.
The restaurants Darragh owns with chef Ben Puchowitz are small, and only about 20 percent of tables are saved for reservations. They had used Reserve largely for its wait-list software, which sends texts to patrons waiting for tables — a feature that OpenTable now also offers. OpenTable costs about $400 to $600 per month in reservations made at Cheu Fishtown and Bing Bing.
“If I was doing thousands of people a day, I might feel differently,” Darragh said. “But it’s also advertising for us. And I do think it will bring more people in.”
At Suraya, the Lebanese restaurant in Fishtown that seats between 250 and 300 people for dinner each night, at least 75 percent of diners are first-time guests, co-owner Greg Root said. Some of them discover the restaurant through OpenTable.
“As a business, you’re always thinking about cost, but you’re also thinking about what works for the guests," Root said. "Everyone in the city knows about OpenTable. Not everyone knows about Resy.”
But Pizzeria Beddia, the latest project from Root and his partners, uses Resy. The March opening for the Fishtown restaurant named after Joe Beddia, whom Bon Appétit magazine once said made the best pizza in America, was not typical: It came a year after Beddia closed his previous pizza shop, which had amassed a cultlike following, and the new restaurant was busy as soon as it opened.
The restaurant saves less than half its tables for reservations. Within minutes of launching on Resy, those slots were filled; as of this week, reservations were booked through mid-June.