An OpenTable employee was recently caught making hundreds of fraudulent bookings through a competitor in an attempt to discredit them. In doing so, they may have uncovered a deeper problem about online reservation software.
The unnamed employee had created multiple e-mail accounts to set up the false reservations through Reserve, one of OpenTable’s rivals. This resulted in hundreds of no-shows in at least 45 restaurants across the Chicago area, causing them to lose money as a result. According to Eater Chicago, this was all done in an attempt to discredit Reserve and get restaurants to move to OpenTable
The employee’s biggest move came on Valentine’s Day, a major revenue day for restaurants. It was then that Reserve software engineers noticed a spike in potentially fraudulent bookings and figured out what was going on. OpenTable then commenced their own investigation into the matter, determined the employee was acting alone, and terminated them.
OpenTable CEO Christa Quarles has since issued a public apology about what occurred. Still, the events reveal a shocking insight as to what these reservation platforms could potentially be used for. Restaurants can exploit their rivals and damage businesses by doing the same thing this employee did. As a result, their competitors would lose revenue due to empty seats, potentially even being forced to close as a result.
And what’s not to say that another OpenTable employee could do the same thing? Or somebody who works for one of their rivals? OpenTable says that their staffer acted alone, but they could have easily been motivated to do so by incentive (or a hidden directive). A culture where company staff are pressured to secure new clients regularly could influence them to perform such deeds. That’s what just happened at Wells Fargo last year, where bankers set up several false accounts under their clients’ names to meet quota demands from their bosses.
What this now former OpenTable employee did opens up a can of worms for online reservation websites and their users, who now know of a key exploit that can hurt their competitors. The big question that arises out of this scandal isn’t if somebody will pull a stunt like this again, it’s when.