Dear OpenTable:

Every time LudoBites has announced a new Los Angeles residency, we've jumped, panting and salivating, like the proverbial Pavlovian dog. And every time, we've experienced the horror and heartbreak of the OpenTable reservation system.

It's slow. It's prone to crashes. It's instantly overrun by LudoBites attendees. It has an unintuitive, poorly designed user interface. Instead of displaying available dates and times then allowing users to select their top choices, users who select a slot that has already been booked must click back through multiple pages to try again.

Scenes from LudoBites 5.0, held at Gram & Papa's.; Credit: Guzzle & Nosh

Scenes from LudoBites 5.0, held at Gram & Papa's.; Credit: Guzzle & Nosh

One time, we had four people try simultaneously, on separate computers, to make LudoBites reservations. We all failed. Another time, we had a computer savvy friend with a blazingly fast internet connection click through half-a-dozen OpenTable tabs in his browser. We actually succeeded that time. Admittedly, we're in a position where we could place a couple of calls and find ourselves a LudoBites table. Most people can't do that, so we try, as much as possible, to have the same experience as anyone else would have. That's why we know how awful the OpenTable/LudoBites reservation system is.

In fact, it made us hate your website so much, we now take pains never to use OpenTable when making restaurant reservations.

We understand the fundamental laws of supply and demand: A LudoBites reservation is a high-demand commodity. However, it should not be an impossible commodity, as elusive as unicorn tears or a Cabbage Patch doll circa Christmas 1983.

Tomorrow, at precisely 4 p.m. Pacific time, reservations will open for Ludobites 007. Thanks to the Sundance Channel show “Ludobites America,” demand will probably be higher than ever. Unless you've radically altered your booking system, so will peoples' frustration.

We were heartened by the mass-email we received this morning from Chef Ludo and his wife/business partner, Krissy Lefebvre, who write:

We have worked hard with Opentable over the past six months to ensure that the reservation process is as smooth as possible… You will see a reservation calendar. The dates with red circles are the dates that LudoBites is available for reservations. Please review the calendar so that you know what days are available, rather than trying to do so through OpenTable once reservations begin.

Unfortunately, we're also skeptical. The link to “review” the open dates in advance leads us to this: a mostly blank page with a map to Gram & Papa's but no information about available dates.

LudoBites 007 advance reservation screen.

LudoBites 007 advance reservation screen.

OpenTable, we don't want to hate you, but you've driven us to it. If Ticketmaster can figure out how to sell hundreds of thousands of concert tickets at a swoop, we can only say: Get your act together, OpenTable!


Elina Shatkin

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