YumTable hopes to fill empty restaurant tables

Last updated 05:00 02/05/2011
DO YOU HAVE AN E-RESERVATION?: Melbourne's Flower Drum restaurant is one of 200 offering
DO YOU HAVE AN E-RESERVATION?: Melbourne's Flower Drum restaurant is one of 200 offering "last-minute'' discounts through an online booking service.

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Consumers have become used to searching for last-minute deals on hotel accommodation through discount websites and now an Australian startup with eyes on New Zealand is hoping to do the same for restaurant bookings.

Melbourne company YumTable aims to help fill empty restaurants by letting owners make offers such as discounted food and free wine that diners can peruse and book on the web from computers or iPhones.

The company has received financial backing from Craig Winkler, the co-founder of trans-Tasman accounting software giant MYOB. YumTable has signed up 200 restaurants in Melbourne which pay YumTable a A$2 fee per table booked through the site and plans to expand to internationally, first to Hong Kong.

Chris Knight, strategy head of parent company Madewell, said it aimed to launch in New Zealand this year.

Hospitality Association Wellington branch president Jeremy Smith expected YumTable would find a ready market in New Zealand.

But he said it would probably spawn copycats in the same way that "one-day deals" sites had exploded. Encouraging more discounting could be a double-edged sword for restaurants that were already doing it tough because of the economic downturn and the popularity of home cooking shows.

"It is bound to catch on. It did with hotel accommodation and airlines so I would say that it is inevitable. We are all fighting to get customers through the door and anything different you can do, I think people will go for. The danger is restaurants end up in a `discounting cycle' and if it catches on you can't afford not to be part of the process."

Mr Knight said YumTable allowed restaurants to better match discounts to spare capacity. They could control the numbers of tables allocated per offer, the times they were available and could turn the discounts off if a big party walked in to their restaurant. YumTable confirms bookings to restaurants and consumers via text message.

Mr Smith said restaurants' biggest competition at the moment was not each other but $10 bottles of wine, $20/kg steak at the supermarket, 40-inch plasma televisions and the cooking reality-show genre. "People are experimenting a lot more at home."

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- BusinessDay.co.nz

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