OpenTable booking seats at negotiating table in Europe

Contact: Brenon Daly

Often when a company takes its business to a foreign country, something gets lost in translation. EBay found that as it looked to expand its online auctions internationally, and on a smaller scale, OpenTable ran into some of that as well. Roughly two years ago, the San Francisco-based online restaurant reservation service pulled out of both Spain and France. Even now, OpenTable’s international operation contributes only about 6% of total revenue as it burns money.

So, perhaps the thinking in its recent transatlantic move is: If you can’t beat them, buy them. In its first acquisition for geographic expansion, OpenTable said last week that it will pay $55m in cash for, a UK reservation site. (Frankly, we have been expecting a move across the ocean by OpenTable since its IPO.) OpenTable has had its offering in the UK since 2004, but the company has acknowledged that the UK is its most competitive market.

While the acquisition should help bolster its presence there, we should note that OpenTable operates in a very different way than OpenTable looks to replace a restaurant’s existing reservation book, which is typically a pen and some paper, with the company’s proprietary electronic reservation book. On top of that one-time installation fee, OpenTable then charges a monthly subscription fee as well as making money each time a diner sits down at a restaurant table that was booked through the service. In contrast, – along with other services that use the ‘allocation’ model – simply moves some of the available reservations online, with reservations there then recorded in whatever system the restaurant is currently using.

One advantage that has, according to OpenTable, is that its approach is ‘lighter’ in that it doesn’t require an upfront hardware purchase. OpenTable is considering taking and its allocation approach back into continental Europe, where had started to move. If that organic expansion from its inorganic acquisition doesn’t take off, look for OpenTable to buy again. Germany, where OpenTable has had operations since 2007, looks like another market where OpenTable might want to reserve a few seats at the negotiating table.