Seattle restaurants have been getting heavily wired in the last couple years. Many have their own Web sites as well as connections to an Internet-based reservation system. But Tulio, the high-end Italian restaurant on the ground floor of the Hotel Vintage Park, was slow to get into this game, as manager Michael DeGano readily admits.
With its gorgeous wood furnishings, vintage fixtures, and traditional menu, Tulio has the atmosphere of another era. It's not where you go expecting cutting-edge technology. The challenge facing DeGano was: How do you extract the benefits of technology while maintaining your old-world values?
Both Sazerac and the Painted Table, which are owned by the same San Francisco parent company as Tulio, joined up with an Internet reservation service called OpenTable.com some time ago, and DeGano did so in January of this year. I sat down with him in the genteel comfort of the restaurant's upper floor to ask why he did it and why he waited.
Seattle Weekly: What is OpenTable and what does it do for you?
MD: OpenTable is an online reservation service. Especially at lunch, I think a lot of people are sitting at their computers, and they can just log on to OpenTable.com and make a reservation. We've had between 20 and 30 reservations a month [that way]. We just started January 1.
SW: What were you waiting for?
MD: Well, Tulio has been here for eight years. We're not the big high-tech restaurant. We're not trendy. We're about comfort. And we just didn't think that [the front-desk computer monitor] went with the decor. It takes the eyes off of the guest, and I don't like that. When I walk in to a place, I want somebody to greet me and say, 'Hello, how are you,' not to be looking at a machine. Even when you have a reservation book out, it isn't a screen. We're all computer-age people now; when there's a screen in front of us, we tend to look at it.
SW: So it was the physical object?
MD: Oh yeah, the technology I was very much for. And we had been using primitive methods to do the same things that OpenTable does—we had a database system, a Rolodex. OpenTable has made it a lot easier to collect all the data.
SW: How so?
MD: The previous method was a VIP list we had on a Rolodex, which also got transferred to a host computer in the back, which took a lot of time. With OpenTable, when someone makes an Internet reservation, we don't have to transfer. If I bring up Michael DeGano on OpenTable, it's going to tell me my e-mail address, phone number, what booth I really like, what item on the menu is my favorite, what wines I've ordered in the past, how many times I've been here in the past, how many times I've cancelled a reservation.
OpenTable has it set up so when you make your reservation, there's a flag that says, 'Here's somebody special.' Previously the hostess at the beginning of the shift would have to look at the reservation sheet, see who's coming in, go back to the computer, bring out either the VIP list or my Rolodex, and physically look at everything. Now you just click on a button and it's all there. Of course, somebody has to enter all the data to begin with.
It's great for the kitchen also because they get a kitchen count, how many people are coming in at a certain hour, any dietary restrictions. I can print all that stuff up for the kitchen before the shift. Before we did it, but on little pieces of paper. And the hotel concierges like them because we can keep track of who sends up people and reward them. You can do a concierge report, it's all itemized out.
SW: How did you solve the monitor problem?
MD: Internet reservations stop at a certain time. As soon as that stops, the hostess prints out the reservation sheet. So they physically have a piece of paper in front of them like they did in the old days. The computer's kind of to the side. I have the best of both worlds.
SW: Don't you worry about having all that critical info stored on a computer?
MD: We've had it for four months. It hasn't crashed yet.