Urbanspoon is out to rescue online restaurant reservation. Even in the face of OpenTable virtual monopoly of online restaurant reservation, Urbanspoon’s track record and talent indicate that they should be taken seriously. Already, Urbanspoon’s online roots run deep.

10 million unique users visit the Urbanspoon website each month. 10 million people have downloaded the Urbanspoon application on their smart phones, feeding thousands of restaurant reviews, instantaneous reservations and restaurant information to their smart phones. It brags 100 million people each month visit Urbanspoon and its affiliate network.

Understandably, then restaurants everywhere are taking notice of Urbanspoon’s table management and online restaurant reservation system, Rezbook, that threatens OpenTable’s stranglehold of online restaurant reservation. Using the iPad’s intutiveness, Rezbook, by itself, is something to behold.

The Opentable Monopoly

The shadow that looms behind Urbanspoon’s undertaking is Opentable. We are doomed to mention OpenTable, a company which dominates online restaurant reservation. It’s unfair. As we all know, a monopoly or near monopoly (OpenTable has over 90 % market share) always, always offers their service at an unfair price, whether they low-ball to kill start-ups or jack up the price because restaurants have no choice.  They seem to be in the business of being the only one in business. Restaurant owners feel like they are being shortchanged, and they are .

Essentially, many, if not the majority, of the 15,000 restaurants that use Opentable believe that they have no choice. At this point, the average online customer knows of no other online service that takes reservations. They do not read the tech websites, and they know next to nothing about Urbanspoon or similar enterprises. For those who want to opt out of Opentable’s near monopoly, it’s not a viable choice because they feel that they are committing long-term financial suicide. OpenTable’s supporters often shoot back that why would restaurants use OpenTable if it was so hurtful. The argument that 15,000 restaurants are happy with Opentable’s prices only because they signed up is ludicrous, and ignores that small businesses are terrified of falling behind.

But though OpenTable pulls the strings in online reservation, Urbanspoon, a relative light weight in online reservation, has created a system both refreshing innovative and beautifully simple. As shall become obvious, we are not just championing the underdog. Rezbook maintains efficiency and ease of use while maintaining all the requisite features. It’s a step forward. To make an analogy: Urbanspoon especially RezBook, the anchor of their reservation system, takes Apple’s ethos of simplicity, functionality and style that have catapulted iPhone, iPad, and iMac to being the industry standard. Not coincidentally, Rezbook works off the iPad.

With Rezbook’s reasonable prices, a simple interface and millions of potential users, Urbanspoon has turned a lot of heads. It, though, lives up to the hype. We were pleased with their contribution to the restaurant world, especially the software behind Rezbook. But by most, Urbanspoon isn’t well understood as it is a company with many faces. Although these functions harmonize well, a look at each will spell out the possibilities for restaurants.

Website: Reviews and Online Portal to Restaurants

First off, Urbanspoon’s website is a repository of high-quality reviews. It combines the general ratings with reviews from established bloggers and print food critics. Unlike Yelp, it doesn’t emphasize one to the detriment of others. It doesn’t try to be cool and reviews seem to be thoughtful. Consequently, millions trust Urbanspoon, and it has a strong footing in this market. It cuts through the inaccuracy of ratings found on Yelp and CitySearch (many ratings say something completely than the ratings), and puts the restaurant to the test: would you suggest it or not? With a community of size, scope and intelligence, it is at this point as close as you can get to word of mouth with millions of strangers. Granted, I am a little uncomfortable with review sites on principle. And inevitably, some of the arguments against Yelp gain some traction against Urbanspoon’s website, but I get the sense that Urbanspoon works hard to prevent a free-for-all.

On the Go: Smart Phone Applications

Next, Urbanspoon takes much of the information on their website and condenses it into an immensely popular smart phone application. Years back, Urbanspoon’s iPhone application earned its reputation through the shake. You’d shake the iPhone and the app would select nearby eating alternatives based on your GPS location. Urbanspoon has built on that. Now the application, which is available for a whole host of smart phones, has a menu system that provides a thorough and streamlined listing of restaurants. It has search, maps, descriptions, reviews, and menus. And slowly it boasts more and more reservation options.  It leads the pack. Similarly, there is an iPad application for restaurant goers, which should not be confused with Rezbook. As the reservation options increase, Urbanspoon’s application will become an even more powerful tool. The most likely way this will happen is through Rez, the computer based reservation system, which is compatible with other reservation systems like OpenTable.

Rezbook: Urbanspoon’s Online Restaurant Reservation Breakthrough

Rezbook is the cornerstone of Urbanspoon’s online reservation system, from which all the parts come together.

The already spectacular iPad, with its wireless internet capability, is the main platform that a restaurant manages reservations from Urbanspoon with. Buying an iPad involves some investment but if you put this up against OpenTable, your restaurant gets away unscathed. Anyway, an iPad has some resale value (iPad’s have tracking devices that discourage theft). But Rezbook is not merely for online restaurant reservation; Rezbook is a versatile table management system. Everything is there, and because it’s so impressive we prepared a video. It also has its fair share of improvements. It has a graph to assess the number of diners at one time.

Urbanspoon is not lying when they say a person needs no more than 15 minutes get the hang of it. It is fortunate for restaurant brave enough to adopt this system as multifaceted programs this intuitive are as rare as solar eclipses. Of course, it syncs with the computer-based software and Rezbook can be managed remotely on an iPhone. But the genius is in Rezbook. Out of nowhere, it sets the bar for the ease of use, the effective use of technology, and the sheer beauty. See for yourself.

If Urbanspoon’s Rezbook, being right on the money, fails to make inroads, the restaurant industry will for the foreseeable future be at the mercy of Opentable. Surely, even with Rezbook, there is work left to be done. And hopefully, customers will transition to an industry which has room multiple companies. Still, if Urbanspoon is half as good at business as they are in creating an online restaurant reservation system, we have nothing to worry about.