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To Be Part of the Clique, Just Go Online and Click

September 28, 2000|ANGELA PETTERA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The technology for making restaurant reservations via your home computer has come to Los Angeles. Two major companies have installed equipment in local restaurants that let the eateries take reservations directly from the Web via specific Web sites. OpenTable.com and Foodline.com both provide free reservation services in L.A., along with information about their partner restaurants and the power to search for dinner by name, cuisine, area and price. A third company, DinnerBroker, thinks we're ready for dynamic pricing of restaurant reservations. In other words, DinnerBroker bets you're willing to pay a fee for getting a table at one of their restaurants on a weekend night. It also believes you'll be motivated to dine at off-hours for a 10%-15% discount.

What follows are details about OpenTable.com, Foodline.com and DinnerBroker, which restaurants they've partnered with and the advantages of each outfit. Keep in mind, however, that when you make your dinner reservation through an electronic source, your information goes into a database. All of these companies can track when and where you ate, how much you spent on dinner and, in some cases, what kind of a tip you left. If you're leery of giving away too much private information for the sake of convenience, these systems may not work for you. Also bear in mind that there are penalties for pulling a "no-show" (not showing up for your reservation), and they aren't pretty.

OpenTable.com began life in San Francisco but recently inked deals with the following L.A. restaurants: Amici Mare, Amici Trattoria, Auberge, Barefoot, Bombay Cafe, Brentwood, Cafe Del Rey, Canal Club, Capo, Celestino Steakhouse, Chadwick, Checkers, Drago, Fenix, Four Oaks, James' Beach, JiRaffe, L'Angolo, Lasher's, L'Opera, L'Orangerie, Los Feliz, Market City Cafe, Melisse, Michael's, Oliva, Pooch's, Rebecca's, Reign, Rix, Soleil, Tengu, Trattoria Amici, Traxx and Woodside. The Web site at http://www.opentable.com lets you read reviews of the restaurants and download maps for directions. After you select a place to eat, you search for your preferred day and time.

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To save your table, you'll have to register at the site. Registering requires giving your name, address, e-mail address, a password and a credit card number. If your time is available, you'll get a confirmation number for your table. If not, you're offered other times to choose from. Once your reservation is made, you have until 30 minutes before the reserved time to cancel. If you pull a no-show four times over a 12-month period, your OpenTable.com privileges will be revoked. Ouch.

New York-based Foodline.com works on pretty much the same principle as OpenTable.com. You search for a restaurant (by going to http://www.foodline.com), find a date and time, and book your table. In the L.A. area, Alto Palato, the Bungalow, Mimosa, Cafe des Artistes, Dal Rae, Morton's and both Tommy Tangs have signed on. The Web site posts reviews and sometimes even menus. On this site you'll also find recipes for food and drinks, a restaurant gossip column, wine tips and a culinary guideline tailored to your astrological sign (no kidding). Searching is easy; registration requires a name, e-mail address, password, credit card number and phone number. You have until one hour prior to your reservation to cancel. No-shows are charged a $20 fee. Double ouch.

DinnerBroker takes a slightly different approach. At http://www.dinnerbroker.com, you have to be older than 18 just to use the site. If you want to get into one of the service's restaurant partners at the last minute, you pay $5 to $10 per person for that prime-time Thursday, Friday or Saturday night table (this doesn't get you any food or drinks, mind you, just the table--which comes free, of course, if you're able to plan ahead). The restaurants that have signed up are Citrus, JiRaffe, Joss, Jozu, La Boheme, Le Chardonnay, L'Orangerie, Principe, Vincenti and Woodside. On the other hand, if you don't mind dining during the week, these spots will give you a 10% or 15% discount for filling up their off-peak tables, depending on how far off peak you're willing to go (filet mignon at 5 p.m.?). You register by giving your name, e-mail address, a password, a credit card number and a phone number.

Once you get to the restaurant, you're treated like any other diner--meaning the maitre d' can still ignore you as your reservation time comes and goes. You can cancel up to the last minute too, but if you made one of those costly prime-time reservations, your credit card will be charged that $5-$10 per person fee. The good news is you'll be credited that amount toward a future reservation. No-shows, however, are charged in full without any future credit.

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Angela Pettera can be reached at (213) 237-3153 or at pettera@prodigy.net

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