Claiming that restaurants will one day take 20 percent of their reservations over the Internet, a herd of dotcom companies is rushing to sign up restaurants for their online reservations systems.
The buzz in Internet-based reservations is the concept of "real time," in which patrons place reservations directly with the restaurant. Two companies are linking restaurants with DSL (digital subscriber lines), providing high-speed access to the Internet.
For a fee of $200 per month plus a charge per reservation, New York-based Foodline.com installs a com-puter, software and DSL in the restaurant. The service is free to patrons, who can find out about the service through Foodline's Web site, which offers news and gossip. "Our strength is our Web-based reporting tools, which help the restaurant manage its customer base, and the 'stickiness' of our site-people keep coming back to it," says spokeswoman Rebecca Young. So far, "a couple hundred" restaurants have signed up for Foodline's service, she says.
San Francisco-based Open Table.com had 500 restaurants signed up at press time for its software and DSL package, says spokeswoman Regan Daniels. The cost of the system is $500 for installation and customization, and then $100 a month for support and the DSL connection plus $1 per head for reservations. Investors include Michael Dellar, of One Market and Lark Creek Inn restaurants in San Francisco, and Danny Meyer, of Union Square Cafe in New York.
The new EZ2Get.com site not only will provide restaurant reservations and food delivery, but also plans to add "flower delivery, hardware, office supplies-anything you want to get within an hour," says Cary Gruer, vice president of the company's restaurant solutions group. The Dallas-based com-pany purchased the RSViP reservation management and Pro Host table management software systems. They can be integrated into its online reservation program, which is slated to take off in July, Gruer says. The cost will be $199 for the hardware setup, and then $99 a month plus $1 per reservation, assuming the restaurant has its own DSL.
Other companies reject the dedi-cated line model, claiming that DSLs are not widely available.
Rye, N.Y.-based RestaurantRow.com takes reservations for roughly 24,000 of the more than 120,000 restaurants in its database via its Web site, according to president Jim Gurfein. RestaurantRow sends the request to the restaurant via e-mail, phone or fax to determine availability. RestaurantRow then notifies the patron. The program is free to both patron and restaurant; the company makes money off its Web advertising.
RestaurantRow plans to distribute 15,000 wireless communications devices to restaurants in major metropolitan areas by the end of summer. "The device can sit on the podium or hang from the manager's belt," Gurfein says. "He can have it near him 24/7." The restaurants will pay a fee to use the devices, "but it will be painless," Gurfein promises.
Seattle-based SavvyDiner.com makes as many as 3,000 reservations a month via its Web site, which lists more than 700 restaurants, restaurant relations vice president Bill Matuszak says. The service is free to patrons and restaurants; about 550 restaurants each pay $45 a month for a Web page on the SavvyDiner site, he says.
SavvyDiner will also introduce a real-time reservation program using wireless communicators at a cost of $45 a month to participating restaurants. "It will debut in the third quarter," Matuszak says.
RezConnect, based in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., plans to roll out a free Internet-to-phone-to-Internet system in 5,000 restaurants this summer, company president Michael Brent says. The system converts the patron's text message to a speech message, which the restaurant receives via its existing phone line. The restaurant codes in its reply using the phone keyboard. "The restaurant doesn't have to install anything," Brent says.
RezConnect is part of Etravnet.com, a chain of franchise travel agencies, which will funnel patrons into the system, bolstered by a $2 million television campaign, Brent says.
Resources: EZ2Get.com, 949/829-8051; Foodline.com, 212/420-7080; OpenTable.com, 415/551-1510; Res-taurantRow.com, 914/921-3200; Rez Connect/Etravnet.com, 201/567-8500; SavvyDiner.com, 440/942-3550