Many know OpenTable as the handy app that helps make a reservation for 2 people at 7:00pm on Friday. But how does the app know what is available? That’s where the Availability Planning team comes in. Our team works on a suite of tools and settings that help restaurants manage how many people can sit at a table and the times those tables are available. These settings range from simple to complex and we noticed the bulk of our support calls were related to one feature in particular, special days. We decided to dig in further to see how we could better assist restaurants.
A special day is any day that is different from the normal weekly restaurant schedule. These different days could range from a buy-out (the entire restaurant is reserved by a single guest) to a major holiday (Valentine’s Day has a specific menu and is configured for parties of two). It is an important feature that enables restaurants to manage their unique schedule.
To really dig into this opportunity, we used an Opportunity Solution Tree exercise from Product Talk. This exercise makes it really easy to visualize the relationship between the outcome you are trying to achieve and the opportunities, solutions, and experiments it would take to get you there. I reached out to our support, customer, and engineering teams to take part in generating a lot of solutions based on these opportunities. We ended up with about fourteen solutions; each with potential experiments to try. I then led a prioritization exercise with stakeholders to help us focus on two impactful experiments.
Here is a Opportunity Solution Tree template I’ve created for Figjam
Given our timing, we prioritized two solutions to experiment with:
We started with blocking online availability. Blocking online availability is important for restaurants because it lets them control when their restaurant appears online. A primary use case for blocking online availability is when the restaurant gets too busy and needs to slow down online reservations.
Solution: Show a modal with information on how to block online availability
Hypothesis: We believe that if we provide information on how to block availability then restaurants will be more comfortable completing this task on their own
We released the block availability modal first and let it run for two weeks. We quickly saw that it was not getting the engagement we were looking for. This was a bit surprising to the team as this request came up a lot in our support calls and survey results. I think two things attributed to this experiment being invalid, first the placement and wording we used may not have been familiar to those looking for this feature. Secondly, there are a lot of steps to block online availability, and simply listing them without an easy way to complete the task still resulted in folks picking up the phone to call support.
Our second experiment was around showing a calendar of current and upcoming special days. Seeing this overview of their special days is important for restaurants because it helps them plan and organize their schedule.
Solution: Show a calendar of special days so users know what is upcoming
Hypothesis: We believe that showing a rolling calendar with a monthly overview will help General Managers understand upcoming special days
We broke this experiment into three parts: prototype, small release, ship. First, we reached out to our field teams to get feedback on a prototype. We wanted to assess the appetite for this calendar-like feature. I created a quick prototype in Figma, then surveyed ~30 folks and asked them to rate on a scale of 1 - 5: how valuable l this calendar would be in helping General Managers understand upcoming closed and special days. The prototype received 4.5 out of 5. This gave us the confidence to move forward and get feedback from customers.
We wanted to get a working version into the product to start collecting some live feedback. We leveraged calendar patterns used by other teams and were able to get a calendar showing special day information into the product in about two weeks. Massive shoutout to Debalina, a front-end engineer on our team, who absolutely crushed it and got this release out so quickly! We identified about 200 restaurants that were highly active users of special days and turned on the new calendar for their accounts. While running this experiment for two weeks, we used a tool called Pendo to launch an in-product survey to gauge preference and value of this new calendar view. From these surveys we learned that some information was missing from the special day events and some visual issues with calendar navigation. But the signal was positive and this encouraged us to release this feature to our entire user base.
We worked quickly to improve the calendar based on the feedback. We presented findings with our stakeholders and they shared our enthusiasm and supported the release of this feature to all restaurants. We continued to monitor feedback and identified potential improvements as we continued to develop this product area.
We spent a lot of time combing through support calls and surveying internal teams to discover areas of opportunity. This was important to pinpoint the areas of pain and then understand what actions we could take to alleviate that pain. This also brought our customer-facing teams and product teams closer together and it felt like everyone was involved in the solution.
The Opportunity Solution Tree was a great way to get the teams involved. The calendar idea came from an engineer on the team. I liked to bring that up because it reinforces that anyone can be an active member in shaping how we develop products.
We learned a lot from those first 200 restaurants using the calendar. The way they set up these special days and configure settings is so unique to each restaurant that it was important to let them experience the feature in a real-life setting. We also reached back out to specific restaurants to get clarity on feedback. This was great for us to learn but also great to bring restaurants into the development process.
During the time that we worked on these experiments and released the special day calendar we saw a 2x drop in support calls related to Availability Planning. Experimentation played a crucial role in the success of the special day calendar. Through testing prioritized experiments we arrived at a solution that enabled restaurants to get information and solve issues without reaching out to support. We’ve begun to templatize this experimentation method and will continue to use it on our upcoming projects.
Darren is a product designer on the restaurant operations team. He is always listening to Drake, usually watching Wes Anderson films, and probably thinking about what's for lunch.