OpenTable Says Employee Made Fake Reservations at Chicago Restaurants Using Rival Service

An investigation revealed a “rogue employee” had made a few hundred false reservations at 45 Chicago restaurants via OpenTable's rival service Reserve, the company said

An OpenTable employee has been fired after making hundreds of fake reservations at dozens of Chicago restaurants while using a rival company’s platform.

In a recent “open letter to the restaurant community,” OpenTable CEO Christa Quarles said an investigation revealed a “rogue employee” had made a few hundred false reservations at 45 Chicago restaurants via the company’s rival service Reserve.

Quarles said the employee “acted alone” and was fired within 48 hours. He or she was not in a sales function and had no managerial duties, she said.

“On behalf of OpenTable, I extend our sincerest apologies to the restaurant community in Chicago and to Reserve for this disgraceful, unsanctioned behaviour,” the letter read. “This behavior goes against everything we stand for.”

The issue was initially detected by Reserve, which said it presented its information to OpenTable, sparking the investigation. The company declined to specify how it initially detected the fake reservations, but said they were made between December and Valentine's Day, with Valentine's Day being the peak day for no-show reservations. 

"Which not coincidentally is a very big night for restaurants," Michael Wesner, COO of Reserve, told NBC Chicago, adding, "the clear intent was to harm Reserve, but also these restaurants and the people who work there."

Reserve said all affected restaurants have been notified and it will "stand by them in whatever course of action they wish to seek from OpenTable."

"Our goal continues to be focused on providing restaurants an alternative and more comprehensive table management solution that is designed in the best interest of their businesses and that is how we will continue to innovate," Reserve said in a statement. "We understand that this goal has ultimately disrupted a marketplace that has been historically dominated by one single company and thus led to someone within that company taking such reprehensible actions, but we remain relentlessly focused on ALWAYS doing right by our restaurant partners. We are excited to keep growing with these restaurants and inspired by the continual encouragement they provide us." 

The news, first reported by Eater Chicago, stunned many in the restaurant industry, particularly those affected by the scheme.

Peter de Castro, an owner of Tavern at the Park, confirmed the restaurant, a former OpenTable customer, was among those to see an increase in no-show reservations at crucial moneymaking times following their switch to Reserve.

“We just assumed it was a glitch in the system,” he told NBC Chicago Wednesday. “We certainly had more reservations that were confirmed and then not show than ever before.”

But after months of large groups failing to show up for their reservations, they finally received an answer when Reserve contacted them about the results of the investigation.

“In talking with Reserve, the OpenTable employee hit us hard in the month of December,” de Castro said. “It certainly was -- we felt it with the large groups.”

De Castro said the restaurant would call to confirm large party reservations and sent every party a text confirming their time, and many parties would respond.

“They not only hurt the business themselves but who it really hurts is the servers and the bartenders who rely on this for their income,” de Castro said. “Why would they want to hurt us? We had been an OpenTable customer for years.”

De Castro said he doesn’t believe the employee acted alone.

“Somebody else had to know that this was going on or gave this employee the directive to do so,” he said.

Reserve launched in Chicago in 2015, beginning with more than 20 restaurants in the city, including notables like Celeste, Dusek’s Board and Beer, Geja’s Café, Homestead on the Roof, Lula Café and more.

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