Open Table has a competitor: Eveve

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Sidewalk tables Vita Bella.JPG

Sidewalk tables in Belltown

OpenTable is a predatory online reservation service that once required restaurants to "rent" their equipment and use their proprietary software. It might have seemed all warm and fuzzy until the bill came at the end of the month and the restaurant would find, g-gulp, that those hundreds in membership dues and reservation fees (about $10 for a four-top) added up to a hefty chunk of change.

And it wasn't just unsophisticated mom & pop restaurants that griped about OpenTable (but feared that dropping the service would cost them business); top-tier dinner houses were also resentful because OpenTable's business model depends on taking the restaurant itself (any restaurant) out of the customer relationship, a process known as "disintermediation."

Almost every restaurant uses its own computers these days, running easily downloaded point-of-sale software to enter orders and ring up checks, so there's no revenue stream anymore from leasing dedicated terminals. Instead, OpenTable charges monthly fees for its logo to be displayed on the participating restaurants home pages, linking to the OpenTable website. That's about two-thirds of OpenTable's revenue stream, in fact.

After that, it's OpenTable that's calling the shots, with loyalty points and newsletters and the lure of special deals for customers who use its service to make reservations. So OpenTable has to keep adding value for the consumers who use the site to make reservations. The consumer gets to see local restaurants by cuisine, by neighborhood, by price point, by popularity. And the restaurants? Well, they have to be there, don't they? On the same screen as their rivals. So it just makes sense, doesn't it?

If you own a restaurant, there's a lot to worry about. Before you or your cooks draw that first streak of gastrique onto the plate for your artisanal, hand-grown, chanterelle-crusted poussin); before those cooks were recruited and taught how to prepare your carefully-guarded recipes; before you train your bussers and wait-staff; before you extend your contract with New System Laundry, Auto-Chlor, Sysco, Charlie's Produce, Corfini Gourmet, DinerWare and your social media consultant, your customer still has to walk into the door.

Because butts in seats is still the name of the game.

Running a restaurant is intense, akin to driving a high-performance race car: nothing to worry about (it seems) when all is running smoothly, but white-knuckle terrifying when you're doing over 100 mph half a lap from the pits and you hear a funny noise. With so much to go wrong, and it's understandable that many owners want to reduce the risk disaster.

So they outsource the online reservations, grumbling but grateful that there's one more thing they don't have to worry about. But resentful, nonetheless, about the cost.

Well, hallelujah, there's a new game in town. She's called Eveve, she's from Edinburgh in Scotland, and she showed up in Seattle a couple of weeks ago. Got her American start in the Twin Cities in 2011, then dipped her toe in Houston's waters. Her first signups locally were in Belltown, at La Vita è Bella and Txori. She's planning a serious foray into San Francisco shortly. But first, Seattle. She doesn't do every single trick that OpenTable does, but she's a lot less expensive.

For many clients, OpenTable was a crutch, part of that disintermediation process that takes responsibility for hospitality away from the restaurant and gives it to a Big Data outfit. In return for a hefty fee or commission, OpenTable then sells the diner's butt back to the restaurant where he or she wanted to go in the first place, but now the restaurant has just forfeited its $20 margin. This is a more sophisticated scam than Groupon (because neither party is aware of its cost), but a scam nonetheless.

It's just another dance move in the decline of person-to-person hospitality. Going out for dinner has become a digital commodity, and more of a drain on restaurant resources (with steep commissions and fees that come right off the bottom line) than increasing the minimum wage.

Every major restaurant nonetheless feels compelled to use OpenTable, from tiny neighborhood spots to prestigious houses like Canlis and the Space Needle. Almost 500 in Seattle alone. But now they won't have to. Cornichon wonders, though, whether we're going to see the savings turn up on the plate. That poussin doesn't come cheap.

Comments? Write to Cornichon

Beaujolais.jpg

Vine-covered Beaujolais hillsides in the summer of 2007; the 2014 Georges Dubeouf Beaujolais Nouveau

It's been three decades since restaurateurs Mick McHugh and Tim Firnstahl organized the first Beaujolais Nouveau parties in Seattle, even flying several cases from Paris to Seattle on the Concorde. I'd been invited to join the scouting trip, an experience that would set me on an unexpected path as the organizer of luxury wine tours to France and Italy under the name France In Your Glass.

In the meantime, the French-American Chamber of Commerce, Pacific Northwest Chapter, has taken over sponsorship of the Beaujolais Nouveau Wine Festival as an annual fund-raiser. This year's event takes place on Friday night at the Columbia Tower Club. French-born Dominic Holden will return from New York to act as master of ceremonies. (Sheesh! He's only been there three weeks!) Last I heard they'd sold out of VIP and Young Professional tickets but had a few of the "regular" ($85) tickets available.

I had the chance to taste the first wine of the vintage from the largest importer, Georges Duboeuf, whose wines usually have a characteristic fruity aroma from the proprietary yeast he uses for the wine's unique fermentation process known as carbonic maceration. Not the case this year, at least not in the sample bottle. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, since BN is often criticized for being too "simple" a wine; this year, it seems we'll have more dark cherry notes.

And if I haven't said so before, BN makes a great wine for Thanksgiving turkey.

The King of Gypsy Guitar is Dead

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Flamenco at El Patio.JPG

Three years ago, at a roadhouse called El Patio outside the Provençal town of Arles, a Gypsy singer named Chico and a couple of Flamenco dancers wove their way around the tables. Not, technically, the famous Gipsy Kings, although it was sometimes hard to know which cousins were still part of the group.

Gypsies (Gitanos in Spanish, Gitanes in French) are neither Spanish nor French but Romani. No matter where they congregate, they are regarded by locals with grave suspicion if not outright hostility, showered with mistrust and calumny (as "thieves," as "lazy," etc.). And yet. One of Spain's best sherries is called La Gitana; the top-selling cigarettes in France are Gitanes. And their music, well, simply the most romantic in the world. Every female on the planet, it would seem, dreams of the moment, from the time she was a little girl (whether she admits it or not) when she will be touched by an angel dressed in red and summoned to the stage to dance Flamenco.

Now, the musician they called Manitas de Platas ("Little Hands of Silver"), whose real name was Ricardo Baliardo, has died at the age of 93. He was the mentor to the original Gipsy Kings and their various successors including Chico from El Patio.

As the evening three years ago came to a dramatic close with guitars strumming and Spanish melodies filling the night. Sheathed in red silk, Karina del Oro, who'd been writhing decoratively behind the singers, descended from the stage and began anointing members of the audience. Thrilled and breathless, barely able to believe their good fortune, the chosen women let their shoulder bags fall, loosened their hair (and dropped their inhibitions). They stretched toward the ceiling with a practiced twist of the wrist, as if changing a light bulb, reaching as Gatsby did for the green light. It was a scene of longing and redemption, of Goethe's Ewige Weibliche, set to Andalusian music.

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