France-based tire company and restaurant guidebook publisher Michelin is further expanding its business model: It's now the owner of Europe's biggest online restaurant reservations system. Yesterday the company announced its purchase of London-based Bookatable, which currently handles reservations for more than 15,000 restaurants across Europe.
The two companies were previously acquainted: In 2013 they formed a partnership that integrated BookaTable's reservation capabilities into Michelin's existing restaurant search service (which functions not unlike Yelp, complete with user-submitted reviews and photos). More than 34 million covers were reportedly booked through Bookatable last year, and the company also launched a mobile payment system last year.
French startup blog Rude Baguette notes that the acquisition "represents both a big step into digital for Michelin, as well as a change in the [mergers and acquisitions] mindset in France, where established companies have struggled culturally to make strategy-shifting acquisitions." It's certainly a major leap into the 21st century for the 127-year-old company, which — now boasting restaurant guidebooks, an online restaurant search service, reservations, and mobile payments — could be poised to become Europe's version of OpenTable or even Yelp (at least where restaurants are concerned). Both of the aforementioned companies have been on a quest to build up their respective stables of services for diners in recent years: OpenTable added mobile payments to its reservations app in 2014, and that same year Yelp launched an online reservations system to go along with its robust review database. And of course, Michelin and Bookatable aren't without some European competition: In 2014 wildly popular review site TripAdvisor acquired online reservations system La Fourchette. (It has yet to delve into mobile payments, however.)
But as Michelin expands its reach into new sectors, it seems perhaps inevitable that the company will face some questions of conflicts of interest. Yelp has famously come under attack from business owners who accused the company of extortion for offering to remove negative reviews in exchange for paid advertising; a related lawsuit was dismissed in 2014. It's not difficult to imagine a scenario in which a chef or restaurant owner accuses Michelin of giving favorable star ratings to restaurants who choose to partner with the company on its new reservations system endeavor.
Following the acquisition, immediate plans for Bookatable include rolling out online reservations capabilities for Scandinavia.