Reporters' Roundtable: Dining 2.0

OpenTable, Yelp, Foursquare, Groupon. The dining business now has more Web 2.0 helpers than ever. For a restaurant owner, navigating these services can help--or hinder--success. Today, we explore how.

Today we're talking about one my favorite topics: food. Dining out, to be precise. I wrote a story in December about how at least one San Francisco restaurant owner, Mark Pastore of Incanto, had problems with OpenTable, the restaurant reservation service. I thought it was an interesting snapshot of what the Web has done time and again: upset and upend well-established business models, sometimes with unexpected and negative side effects that go along with the numerous upsides.

There are several companies affecting the restaurant business. OpenTable radically changed the way restaurants fill their seats. Yelp changed how people get reviews of restaurants, effectively killing Zagat's lock on the mobile guidebook market. Modern Web 2.0 and mobile darlings like Groupon and Foursquare are continuing to change what people pay for dining out and how they find out about restaurants.

There are lessons to be learned here that affect all small and local businesses, and that's what we are discussing today, with two guests intimately familiar with these issues.

First up, Incanto's Mark Pastore. Mark is a well-known and unconventional restaurateur and stands out in San Francisco, where it's hard for any dining establishment to get noticed. (He also owns Boccalone.)

Also joining us: John Li, co-founder of Menuism.com, a local Web start-up for reviewing restaurants and dishes. John and his team are in the middle of "dining meets Web space" and trying to break into the big leagues, and he can tell us what that's like.

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Some of our discussion points

Mark, how long have you been in the restaurant business, and what has the Web done to it? What do diners expect now that they didn't before?

Just so we understand the business a bit, can you break down the cost of, say, a $17 main course?

Let's talk about OpenTable and its loyalty rewards. Who owns the customer now?

John, aren't there advantages from online aggregation of reservations, reviews, coupons, etc.?

(Mark says: "Groupon is a financial derivative")

Let's talk more about reviews...Yelp in particular. When customers "play the Yelp card," how does that affect your business?

John, let's talk about super-granular reviews sites that cover not just restaurants, but menu items in detail. (See also Spork, TopDish, Foodspotting.) Is this a good trend?

What about "mayors" and rewarding check-ins. Are mayors valuable?

The business of serving: Can that be Web-ified too? (See Storific .)

Does anybody pay retail any more? Should they?

Wrap-up: How best to support a restaurant you like while not giving up benefits of the Web?

Related podcast: CNET to the Rescue: Hacking Thanksgiving .

Wrap-up
Next time: Navigation, traffic, and the future of finding parking spots, with Diann Eisnor of Waze and Craig Chapman of Inrix.

Follow me on Twitter for news on what's next on Reporters' Roundtable. E-mail roundtable@cnet.com with your ideas for shows!

 

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