As American Express Acquires Tock, Who’s Winning the Reservation Wars? (2024)

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OpenTable Yelp SevenRooms Resy Tock

Tock is changing hands yet again: The reservations system founded by restaurateur Nick Kokonas in 2014 has been acquired by American Express for $400 million, the financial services company announced today. The platform was previously owned by Squarespace, which acquired it for the same amount in 2021.

This marks American Express’s second acquisition of a reservations system: It has also owned Resy since 2019, a partnership that has opened up exclusive Resy perks, like Priority Notify and VIP experiences, for American Express cardholders. (Today’s news also includes American Express’s acquisition of the payment platform Rooam.)

According to the press release, restaurants are one of American Express cardholders’ largest spending categories. The acquisition of Tock means “we will be able to offer restaurants the tools to deliver more personalized hospitality, facilitate pre-paid experiences like tasting menus, and provide more convenient ways for customers to pay the bill,” Howard Grosfield, president of U.S. consumer services at American Express, said in the release. American Express is also clearly leaning into the cachet of both the hard-to-get credit card and the competitive reservation — people who want one likely also want the other.

With restaurants typically using just one reservations system, the rise of platforms like Resy and Tock has created a crowded market and increased competition among booking platforms, with some offering restaurants more marketing options and others offering lower fees. When it comes to online reservations wars, who’s winning depends on what metrics you’re looking at. OpenTable remains the champion in terms of the sheer number of restaurants on the platform, but it’s also long been the one to beat, with other platforms, like Resy and Tock, gaining traction. Here’s what you need to know about the state of the reservations systems today.

OpenTable

Founded: 1998
The initial pitch: Simplifying the reservations process for both restaurants and diners
Scale: Over 55,000 restaurants globally as of 2024
Who owns it: Booking Holdings, formerly known as the Priceline Group, which also owns Booking.com, Priceline.com, Agoda, Kayak, Cheapflights, Rentalcars.com, and Momondo
How it’s doing: Back when he was first growing Tock, Kokonas beefed with OpenTable by calling the platform, with its “antiquated technology,” a dinosaur. Today, OpenTable remains an old standby. Employed by many restaurants, if a little uncool in public perception, it’s kind of surprising when a hot, new place opts to use it over another booking system. Eater staff took note when Brooklyn’s highly anticipated Strange Delight popped up on the platform.

Yelp

Founded: 2004, though the company added reservations in 2010 and acquired SeatMe, now known as Yelp Reservations, in 2013
The initial pitch: Creating a network of customer-based reviews and putting discovery and booking in the same place
Scale: More than 11,000
Who owns it: Independent
How it’s doing: Yelp probably isn’t the first place you think to make a reservation, but it’s a one-stop shop, especially if you’re a person who makes dining decisions based on crowd-sourced reviews and ratings. It’s especially appealing to tourists, for whom Yelp has more name recognition than local platforms, one restaurant owner told Modern Retail in 2021.

SevenRooms

Founded: 2011
The initial pitch: Using data to personalize restaurant experiences and motivate guest loyalty
Scale: More than 10,000 restaurants as of early 2024
Who owns it: Independent, with investment from Amazon and chefs including José Andrés, Wolfgang Puck, Michael Mina, Thomas Keller, and Jeremy King
How it’s doing: SevenRooms is going for the established, corporate restaurant scene (like Harrods in London and the Union Square Hospitality Group in New York City), where diners might be especially prone to returning often or spending a lot — and where that data-gathering, like how much a diner tends to spend on a given night or what kinds of wine they prefer, can really be put to use. At some restaurants, it’s supplemental: Union Square Cafe, for example, is on both Resy and SevenRooms.

Resy

Founded: 2014 (its co-founder Ben Leventhal also co-founded Eater)
The initial pitch: Using technology to improve reservations and, initially, selling reservations
Scale: Around 16,000 restaurants globally as of early 2023 — the largest privately held reservations service in the United States
Who owns it: American Express
How it’s doing: Landing many trendy, just-opened restaurants, Resy is the new go-to that’s made reservations a battle — particularly in NYC, where competitive Resy culture has become both a necessity and a frequent frustration. That, in some circles, “I’ll make the Resy” has entered the parlance akin to “pass me a Kleenex” speaks to the platform’s growing relevance.

Tock

Founded: 2014
The initial pitch: Giving restaurants more control over their reservations through pre-paid bookings and dynamic pricing
Scale: Around 7,000 restaurants globally as of early 2024
Who owns it: American Express
How it’s doing: Big spenders in particular are the most familiar with Tock, the home of fancy, destination-worthy tasting menus. Naturally, you get a table at Alinea, for example — one of Nick Kokonas’s restaurants — via the platform. The addition of Tock to Go in 2020 allowed restaurants to handle take-out without the high fees of other delivery apps.

As American Express Acquires Tock, Who’s Winning the Reservation Wars? (2024)
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