Reporter's Notebook

OpenTable opening doors for Facebook users

 

Not every new feature enabled by a smart-phone app speaks to my needs as a Millennial. I’m irrationally skeptical of bank apps that let you deposit a check by taking a picture of it.

But Facebook’s recent announcement that it has integrated OpenTable, the giant online-reservation service used by thousands of restaurants, into its mobile app strikes me as the perfect sort of co-branding that could benefit diners like me and restaurants covered every day by Nation’s Restaurant News.

According to the social network’s blog post announcing the OpenTable partnership, the more than 800 million people who access Facebook on a mobile device now can book a table at more than 20,000 restaurants through those eateries’ Facebook pages, without having to leave the page or open another app. It sounds like a seamless way to close the loop between social-media marketing and local-store marketing meant to get a diner into the restaurant, all with a way to measure those efforts and calculate a solid return on investment.

Of course, I couldn’t know for sure, since many of the quick-service, fast-casual and casual-dining brands I frequent don’t take reservations or use OpenTable — and since I’m exhausted every day after dealing with two children in diapers, I’m not going out as much as I used to.

So I asked the social marketing experts at software firm Expion for their take on Facebook’s announcement with OpenTable.

Erica McClenny, senior vice president of client services at Raleigh, N.C.-based Expion, noted that mobile usage of Facebook overtook Web usage of the network this year, “so the integration of more apps like OpenTable is not unexpected.”

“Since local pages are served up to users via Facebook check-ins and upcoming ‘Nearby’ functionalities, any integration keeps users on the Facebook platform and creates a measurable link from the platform over to OpenTable,” McClenny said. “As with anything Facebok does, the more value it has in driving key performance indicators that originate from the Facebook native, the more they can drive advertising dollars.”

The coolest things Expion and other developers are projecting for the OpenTable-Facebook integration would be the location-based information about Facebook friends that could soon get shared with the Facebook user on her mobile app.

“We are looking forward to Facebook continuing to tie more social hooks into this feature,” McClenny said, “including seeing if your friends liked restaurants nearby, provided comments or rated them, as well as having check-ins automatically pushed into the newsfeed.”

In my opinion, OpenTable functionalities could also be a cool feature to any events restaurants plan through Facebook. A chain like Old Chicago hosting another Mini Tour for its World Beer Tour program could create an event to sample some new microbrews, then just add a button for guests to seamlessly book a spot at the next event, for example.

As I mentioned before, many of the large chains I cover don’t use OpenTable, because they don’t take reservations, but perhaps we’ll see the innovative brands find a way to still leverage the technology. In the early days of Foursquare and location-based social apps, the checking in phenomenon was used mostly at bars and upscale-casual venues, yet fast feeders and fast-casual chains found ways to incentivize checking in at their locations and rewarding those activities.

It’s all pretty exciting and intriguing, and I’ll keep an eye out for it on my own Facebook mobile app.

I’m still never getting comfortable with the idea of depositing a check with a camera phone, though.

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Reporter's Notebook is NRN's newsroom blog, where our editors give their points of view on news happening in the restaurant business.

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