A rogue employee at online-reservation website OpenTable made hundreds of fake reservations at high-end Chicago restaurants in what a competing service suggests may be an act of revenge.
Chicago's restaurant scene was thrown into a tizzy the past few months, with dozens of restaurants who use bookings from Reserve, an OpenTable competitor, complaining of no-shows. It sparked an investigation by Reserve, which discovered an OpenTable employee had made about 300 fake reservations on the Reserve app or website.
OpenTable CEO Christ Quarles said her company started its own inquiry, which also traced the scheme back to the employee. She said the person, which was not named, was fired within 48 hours and did not have a managerial role.
The hullabaloo started in December, but reached a boiling-point on one of the most sought-after days for a dinner reservation: Valentine's Day, when a large number of faulty reservations were made at Chicago restaurants, said Reserve COO Michael Wesner.
It was then Reserve confronted OpenTable, which Wesner commended for taking "swift action" on the problem.
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All in all, Wesner said the false reservations affected 45 Chicago restaurants and amounted to more than 1,200 no-show guests. He suspects the motivation was aimed at Reserve for disrupting OpenTable's share of reservations in Chicago. The person, he suggested, wanted to sully Reserve's reputation with the restaurants who use the service. Some of the restaurants, Wesner said, formerly used OpenTable.
"Clearly, the intent was to harm," said Reserve COO Michael Wesner. "What's really most frustrating and most disappointing is just the fact that you're hurting the restaurants," and its employees, he said.
In an open letter, Quarles apologized to Reserve and Chicago's restaurants for the "disgraceful" and "unsanctioned" behavior, promising to reimburse affected restaurants for the lost revenue.
"This action absolutely does not reflect our mission of helping restaurants grow and thrive," she said, "and we will continue to work hard to earn the trust and respect of the OpenTable community every day."
Several Chicago-area restauranteurs bashed OpenTable for the incident, reports Eater Chicago.
"If you're the biggest guy on the block, you're supposed to lead by example," Tavern on the Park co-owner Peter de Castro told Eater. "Why would they stoop to the level of undermining the competition and hurting the restaurants that went to that competition?"