Lisa Hasen, vice president of APAC for OpenTable, explains why the booking platform decided to launch Down Under, and what it can contribute to Australia's booming foodservice market.
Why did OpenTable decide to launch in Australia?
OpenTable decided to launch in Australia because we were recognised around the world as the go-to place to discover and book restaurants, and Australia firmly belongs on that map. So we’re really proud to include the Australian restaurants in the 38,000 restaurant portfolio that we have globally, so diners can book great dining experiences here as well as in other countries.
Was launching in Australia always on the cards?
I know when I started with OpenTable about eight years ago there was an eye on Australia at that time, but … what happened in the economy worldwide shortly following that period negated our ability to expand. So I think it’s all about timing. It’s very interesting how Tourism Australia is now promoting this country as one of the great food and dining destinations and I feel that OpenTable validates that as well.
I’m thrilled that we’re now holding hands with the US, Mexico, Japan, the UK and all of the other countries where OpenTable is alive and well.
How will OpenTable’s global network help Australian restaurants?
For one, it exposes Australian restaurants to a huge global traveller market. So if you’ve been living and working in New York and you travel regularly to Melbourne you now can use that same app on your phone both in your home town as well as when you travel. It’s something that you trust and that you know works for you. It’s very similar to the way Uber works; you use it locally and then you land in LA and you can use the exact same app; it knows who you are and it works beautifully every time.
Australia is a country of travellers; the last statistic I read is that 10 million people travelled abroad as of last year, and so if I’m in Australia and I’m really happy using a method to book restaurants and to find new ones, when I go elsewhere it’s great to have that same capability.
What do you think makes Australia’s dining scene unique?
I think that every market has its own unique particularities. I think from an operations point of view [the industry] is very much in need of some sort of a tool that will give them the comfort level and the control that they need to be able to book online. When you go online you become a 24 hour business. Folks don’t have the ability to call a restaurant during work hours, and when they’re off work the restaurants are busy with service, so [being online] provides a much greater audience to the restaurant.
I just think in Australia it took longer for certain types of technology to get here that would help them to be able to participate in what a lot of other people are doing.
What makes OpenTable different to the other booking platforms in the industry?
OpenTable pioneered the online reservation space 20 years ago. We’ve worked with thousands upon thousands of restaurants over those years to build - from the ground up - the greatest products that can support their businesses. I think we’re truly experts in the field; we’ve always exclusively dealt with restaurants.
Also, we really understand what diners are looking for and how to make it super easy for them to find what they need and make a reservation. You then have to deliver the tools to the restaurant so that when the diner arrives they’re able to provide the greatest level of service, and then more tools so that once the diner is gone, the restaurant has a way to connect with them again.
In your opinion, how does running a restaurant here compare with that of other markets OpenTable operates in?
I’m not sure that there is a tremendous amount of difference. Every restaurant that I’ve ever known has similar challenges of labour costs, food costs and then satisfying the dining public. Do you go with trends? Do you not follow trends? How do I market my product most effectively through to the widest group of people who are looking for restaurants?
How has OpenTable been received since launching here?
There has been overwhelming enthusiasm for OpenTable and it’s been really wonderful. We were very humble coming into this market as we are a new player here, despite people knowing us worldwide.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard ‘we’ve been waiting for you to get here’ or ‘we would have gone with OpenTable had it been available here’, so now we get to unite Australia will all of the other countries as part of the global dining map.
What trends are you seeing in the Australian dining scene at the moment?
What’s great about Australia is that we get to invent our own trends and we don’t have to worry too much about outside influences because we’re this great, somewhat isolated country. We have a lot more freedom I think than a lot of other places.
I see an emphasis coming up on the service element - certainly what’s on the plate is important but service is a major pillar in providing a true dining experience and I see a focus going towards making sure the servers know how to explain the dishes really well, or the wine.
Will you be promoting Australia as a dining destination to your network of consumers overseas?
We are just beginning that. So we are in our fifth month of operation here in Australia ... We really see the Australian market as being primarily a local one with the benefit of being able to market to international travellers, because we can see through our partner companies when people are booking hotels in Australia and those are the guests that we are going to market to, to showcase the restaurants that are, for example, near their hotel.
There’s an increase of 28 percent in the number of diners that are coming here from places like the US and the UK and … we plan to capitalise on our partnerships with sister companies like booking.com to help those travellers make a dining decision once they’ve made an accommodation decision. I believe that it’s the tools that we have built for the local restaurants and the network that we’re building for the local diners that will really be of value.