Case study

Lessons in growth design and dining during COVID-19

April 21, 2021


5 min read

Leslie Yang
Leslie Yang
Product Design Director
Benaz Irani
Benaz Irani
Product Design Manager
Lessons in growth design and dining during COVID-19

Last year, we saw COVID-19 devastate restaurants. And we also saw them get creative, from temporarily converting to grocery stores, feeding essential workers, to trying takeout for the first time. At OpenTable, we've been excited to see how reinvention and resilience have translated to reservation growth this year in cities where caseloads and restrictions have eased.  

Good news aside, there may come a time when your sector faces incredible challenges like the restaurant industry. For us, 2020 marked a year of rising to the challenge and rapid learning for ourselves and our customers. 

Growth design is not about riding bull markets and “hacking” to post big user acquisition numbers. Growth design is about retention over fast revenue. Growth design is not about delighting users, but it is about learning fast and empowering users with the right solutions at the right time. 

Here’s how we brought a growth design approach to our new takeout product.

Restaurants were quickly adapting, and we had to too.

Doggy bags for leftovers after a sumptuous meal was the closest many fine dining restaurants had come to offering takeout and delivery at the beginning of 2020. Restaurants had to quickly adapt as COVID sent rolling lockdowns across cities. 

At OpenTable, we saw two essential user problems. General managers wanted to offer an affordable and sustainable alternative to in-house dining. And diners wanted safety but they also wanted to support their favorite restaurants. 

We built a product restaurants needed now

It became clear we could empower our restaurants by building a low cost takeout app. Why? If we go back to basic principles, we know the key to growth isn’t acquisition. It’s retention. Retention compounds value over time, and it’s cheaper. Plugging a leaky funnel is almost always more valuable than pouring more new users on top. We knew we needed to be fast and smart about retaining our customers with solutions they needed now. 

OpenTable tasked a product squad that included one product designer (myself), two product managers, and eight engineers. In two months, we launched a completely new takeout product to restaurants that served as a companion to our main operational product line.

We know the key to growth isn’t acquisition. It’s retention. Retention compounds value over time, and it’s cheaper.


Getting scrappy with product adoption

When you think of takeout, OpenTable’s not top of mind. Our go-to products are known to diners to book reservations and to restaurants to manage them. But the reality is that app-based delivery giants own both the market and mindshare for takeout. We built this new competitive product. Check. But, how were we going to get diners and restaurants to use it?

Product development is one thing. Product adoption is an entirely different one. 

Keeping costs sustainable

One reason restaurants shy away from running delivery and takeout are added service fees on top of razor thin profit margins. Knowing the enormous challenges restaurants faced last year, we wanted takeout to be a sustainable,  additional revenue stream, not a burden. 

Be where users are

Even though people weren’t going to OpenTable for takeout and delivery, we noticed news and social media buzzing with guidance to support local restaurants through ordering directly from their websites. And so, we made a button that restaurants could easily grab and embed on their own websites to drive takeout orders.

Constantly hunt and resolve the biggest adoption blockers

We focused on getting our product launched quickly and then adjusted our feature prioritization based on constant learning. To better understand where they got stuck or had issues, we ran quick in-product surveys to gauge their biggest pain points and prioritized our backlog accordingly.

Hope on the Horizon

As caseloads drop and vaccinations become more available, we’re excited to see restaurants reopen and capacity increases for indoor dining. We believe restaurants will continue to have more diverse offerings in addition to in-person dining. In that way, our growth design project has forever shaped the industry, and us too. 

Want to shape the future of dining? We’re hiring!

We’re looking for a designer in Melbourne and Sydney to continue the efforts of Takeout and directly impact the businesses of restaurants around the world. If you love solving complex problems for the most passionate and relatable B2B customers you’ll ever meet and want to work with a close-knit, collaborative team, learn about our design team and get in touch

This article was written originally for monthly newsletter, a community that supports growth designers. Check out their website for past newsletters and growth resources in building growth design skills.


Author image
Leslie Yang (she/her/hers)
Product Design Director

Leslie Yang is a Director of Product Design overseeing product design for the restaurant side of OpenTable. She grows design leaders that work at the intersection of user value and business impact.

Author image
Benaz Irani (she/her/hers)
Product Design Manager

Benaz Irani is a Product Design Manager helping our restaurants thrive. She’s based in Melbourne where she’s enjoying the city’s foodie and coffee culture way too much.