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Yelp Launches a Free Online Reservation System

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Screengrab: Yelp SeatMe Official Site
Hillary Dixler Canavan is Eater's restaurant editor and the author of the publication's debut book, Eater: 100 Essential Restaurant Recipes From the Authority on Where to Eat and Why It Matters (Abrams, September 2023). Her work focuses on dining trends and the people changing the industry — and scouting the next hot restaurant you need to try on Eater's annual Best New Restaurant list.

Looks like the famously unreliable crowd-sourced review site Yelp is ready to make good on its 2013 acquisition of online reservation service SeatMe. TechCrunch reports that today Yelp is launching Yelp Reservations, an online reservation service restaurants can use free of charge "as long as the restaurant has 'claimed' its Yelp profile page."

A visit to the Yelp SeatMe website reveals how the reservation system works. The system comprises online reservation making, table and wait list management, and guest information tracking capabilities. A December blog post describing benefits of using SeatMe also calls out the opportunity to buy Yelp ads: "Pairing SeatMe with a Yelp ads package to drive even more traffic." Interestingly, Yelp was once a partner of OpenTable.

A standard subscription to the service costs a restaurant $99/month and SeatMe does not charge the restaurant any fees per cover. It's lower pricing structure can be taken as a direct effort to seduce restaurants away from OpenTable, which has been repeatedly criticized for its high costs to restaurants. A standard subscription to SeatMe costs a restaurant $99/month and SeatMe does not charge any set up fees or fees per cover. Below is a chart from the SeatMe website that shows how SeatMe compares to reservation giant OpenTable:

[Screengrab: Yelp SeatMe Official Site]

When a restaurant signs up for Yelp Reservations, they will have access to many of the same SeatMe features "including the ability to accept invites and alert customers with confirmations." Yelp Reservations will be managed by participating restaurants via a widget and through their Yelp business profiles. Still, a Yelp spokesperson clarifies to TechCrunch that Yelp Reservations and SeatMe are "essentially different products." The spokesperson also explains that the system is a way for restaurants to turn searches into visits.

With the debut of Yelp Reservations, Yelp is competing once again with OpenTable and Google. OpenTable has been steadily expanding its offerings with services like hot table alerts and mobile payment options while also acquiring smaller reservation systems like Ness, Quickcue, and Rezbook. Google has also made moves to increase their restaurant-facing features with the recent acquisition of Appetas, a restaurant website building company, while TripAdvisor recently acquired online reservation platform LaFourchette. Apple is on on the fun too, filing a patent for a reservation and ordering system in December.

It seems that today's news is already having an effect. OpenTable's stock is down some 4% while Yelp's is basically flat. However, it remains to be seen whether restaurants will now flock to Yelp on the promise of a free online reservation system.

UPDATE 2:30 PM: Yelp posted an official announcement on their blog and offers some clarifications: "Yelp already offers the opportunity to book reservations through Yelp SeatMe and OpenTable, but Yelp Reservations is a great option for businesses that aren't big or busy enough yet to need the robust functionality of Yelp SeatMe."

· Yelp Bites Back At OpenTable, TripAdvisor And Google With Free Yelp Reservations Service [TechCrunch]
· Yelp SeatMe [Official Site]
· All Reservations Coverage on Eater [-E-]
· All Yelp Coverage on Eater [-E-]