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Continued: Food fight for dinner reservations in Minneapolis/St. Paul

  • Article by: JOHN EWOLDT , Star Tribune
  • Last update: June 29, 2013 - 2:00 PM

The savings were even more substantial at Hell’s Kitchen in Minneapolis, which also switched to Eveve in 2011. With about 65,000 breakfast, lunch and dinner reservations in 2012 and 40 percent of them booked online, the restaurant paid about $3,000 to Eveve, said co-owner Cynthia Gerdes.

Several years ago, her annual bill with OpenTable was about $32,000. “It’s stunning,” Gerdes said. “We saved 90 percent with Eveve.”

Still, OpenTable remains a formidable competitor. Top restaurants such as Parasole, D’Amico, Butcher & the Boar, Wildfire, Ciao Bella, and Murray’s remain with OpenTable.

And not all restaurants have been pleased with Eveve. Some openly missed Open­Table’s marketing after they left. J.D. Hoyt’s in Minneapolis switched back to OpenTable in January, even though Eveve trimmed the monthly reservation bill from $1,200 to $280.

“Eveve is only a reservation system without any promotional bells and whistles,” said Pat Montague, J.D. Hoyt’s owner. “We’re one of many steakhouse choices on Open­Table, so the ads help. It costs me a bundle, but people use it.”

Hoyt’s is one of 17 restaurants that have gone back to OpenTable, including Rock Bottom, Gianni’s, Al Vento, Rinata, W.A. Frost and Sunsets.

Ryan attributes most of the 17 losses to technical teething issues when Eveve took on a lot of new business in its debut. His loss rate is lower since then, he said.

Some restaurateurs who made the switch worried that moving from a highly regarded name to an unbranded, no-frills plan would mean a drop in reservations or business. Open­Table sends out promotional e-mail newsletters, offers reward points at participating restaurants, and posts a lot of free and paid advertisements on its site to attract diners.

Eveve offers none of that and isn’t even branded on a restaurant’s site. But hardly any restaurants saw a drop in reservations after switching to Eveve’s advertising-free system, according to Eveve.

Jodi Schoenauer, director of sales and marketing for nine Axel’s and Bonfire restaurants, thinks their business held up largely because they are in the suburbs and rely mostly on locals who know the restaurant, not out-of-towners who are choosing based on Open­Table’s reviews, online ads and other marketing efforts.

For restaurants in concentrated downtown areas, Eveve exploits the fact that Open­Table’s promotions can sometimes work against a restaurant. If a customer can’t get in at Butcher & the Boar in Minneapolis at 7 on a Saturday night, for example, it redirects them to places nearby that have a 7 p.m. opening, such as Buca di Beppo or Solera.

“We didn’t want our guests to be shown that there are openings at a competing restaurant,” said Hell’s Kitchen’s Gerdes, “or that they can get an extra 1,000 reward points if they dine across the street.”

John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633

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