Case study

Six months at OpenTable

July 20, 2020


5 min read

Brían French
Brían French
Product designer
Six months at OpenTable

It’s been six months since I joined OpenTable, so I would like to take the time to share my experience so far.

As a designer who has a passion for food, I was really excited to join OpenTable. It is exciting to see everyone so committed to making it easier for our customers to experience the world through dining. I have previously worked in the food tech space, both for startups and VC accelerator companies, and recently completed a Masters in User Experience Design. I was really excited to apply my previous commercial experience and academic knowledge to a global and dynamic company like OpenTable.

From the on-boarding in the first week and throughout my day-to-day, it is clear just how excited everyone is to be here. In my opinion, what makes OpenTable so special is that we are given the opportunity to effect change in the company and are encouraged to learn and share knowledge.

As you can imagine, It’s been an especially challenging experience in the last few months due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. I have never experienced such high levels of innovation, speed of output, and collaboration in as short a timeframe in my career. Despite being incredibly tough, it is inspiring to be a part of a company that is rapidly developing new product features and systems in order to help our restaurant partners and diners across the world.

Here are three lessons that I’ve learned in my first six months as a Product Designer at OpenTable.

Supportive Autonomy

Since starting, it was evident that OpenTable trusts its employees to create and build the right things to help our customers. For my first project, I was given complete autonomy to lead it in the direction that I considered best from a design point of view. It’s a balanced approach of independence to lead the project while being given guidance and support from my manager and surrounding team members.

A recent project that I was given was to create a hub for restaurants that begin to reopen. We want it to make it easy for our users to support their favourite restaurant after being closed during the pandemic. From a design point of view, I first decided to conduct a comprehensive usability test on the current user experience. I wanted to collect quantifiable data to determine the key design issues to solve. The decision to use data to guide the design process helped identify the most important insights to take into consideration.

We are currently testing the design iterations in a phased A/B test approach and I am excited to see if the new designs will have a positive impact on the business.

Culture of Collaboration

Being a part of the OpenTable team has meant a high level of collaboration among team members. This excitement for always wanting to improve the product leads to amazing collaboration among different teams and departments. I am part of some really great initiatives such as mentoring and buddy programs, where you can continually check-in and meet new people from different departments. For example, I have paired up with an engineer, Chris, and we work together once a week, creating UI components from a frontend engineer perspective. It’s a great opportunity to improve my engineering skills, learn new skills and collaborate with team members outside my own department.

In terms of design, a really good example of this collaborative work is the work I have been doing with the wider search team around improving auto-complete. How this translates is: how might we return auto-complete results of restaurants, cuisines, locations, etc, making it easier for diners to find their perfect dining experience more quickly.

For this project, I worked with a lot of different teams, backend engineering, product management, frontend engineering, and other external groups such as sales and marketing. These collaborative sessions provided an opportunity to share perspectives and concepts to be further developed. It’s a positive and on-going learning experience.

We are currently testing version 1 of the auto-complete design and it is really great to see positive results coming from the tests we are currently conducting.

Embracing Change

What’s really exciting about working in OpenTable is people’s curiosity and hunger to constantly improve the product. Teams are always looking for ways to make the experience for our users better and COVID-19 has pushed us to do that even more. Teams across the world have been collaborating, building, and implementing product features that help our restaurant partners and users.

March, my third month with OpenTable, was a crazy month. When governments all over the world made the decision to close restaurants, we needed to act quickly to find solutions for this unfortunate problem. I organised and ran brainstorm sessions with designers, engineers and product managers from our different offices. The goal of the brainstorm session was to identify effective solutions that could be implemented quickly. We developed three really strong ideas.

The first was a ‘Delivery Near Me’ page. Very quickly, the company pivoted to providing food delivery options for our restaurant partners. We felt that our users would find it valuable to search for restaurants that offer delivery near them given the restricted movement by governments in various countries.

Additionally, we came up with ideas to remind users of the many ways they can support restaurants during this time, including food delivery, ordering take-out, buying gift cards to use later, and donating their OpenTable points. We predicted many restaurant reservations would be cancelled during this time and as a result determined that this would be a sensible place to remind our users of the ways they can support their favourite restaurants. All ideas went from concept to going live in less than three days. This was an incredibly impressive example of the willingness to collaborate and think differently within the OpenTable team.

It has been an amazing six months in OpenTable, I’ve enjoyed the projects I have been able to work on. The sense of autonomy fostered by the OpenTable culture is really refreshing and exciting. I have spent my career in the food industry and to be able to positively affect millions of people’s food experience through good design is a rewarding feeling.


Author image
Brían French (he/him/his)
Product designer

Brían French is a Product Designer designing solutions for both web and apps on the consumer side. He’s based in London where he enjoys all things food, design and tech.