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OpenTable enhances social media offerings

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The new app keeps track of where users have dined out.

There may not yet be a way for restaurants to leverage OpenTable’s new Facebook application “Places I’ve Eaten,” but you can bet operators will be keeping an eye on how consumers are using the app.

The app is OpenTable’s latest foray into becoming more social. In January, it paid $10 million for San Francisco startup Foodspotting, a social media app for finding and sharing restaurant dishes, primarily through customer-generated photographs.

“Since dining is inherently social, we’re always looking for opportunities to enhance that social experience for diners and restaurants alike,” says Brandon Bidlack, OpenTable’s head of restaurant marketing.

The “Places I’ve Eaten” app makes it easy for people to share their dining history, favorite restaurants and wish lists with friends on Facebook. OpenTable members can keep their dining history private, or automatically have it posted to their Facebook timeline, visible to some or all of their friends.

“Essentially this lets diners really store, share and curate their dining experiences within their Facebook timeline,” explains Bidlack. “And as restaurants begin to appear in timelines from friends, consumers will have their own mental lists of restaurants they want to go to and can basically bookmark those.”

For operators, what could be better than appearing on these wish lists? It’s word-of-mouth publicity from people who haven’t even eaten at their restaurants. Those same people would be a prime target for direct marketing, but Bidlack says at this point there isn’t a way for restaurants to promote themselves to those people, or mine and use the data.

The possibility exists down the road, he says, as the app gains traction. Right now, the only way for a restaurant to connect with consumers using the app is if they are Facebook friends with those people.

Foodspotting, which describes itself as “a visual guide to good food and where to find it,” debuted in 2009. The app is centered on user-generated images of specific dishes diners are touting (negative comments aren’t allowed). Consumers can search for specific dishes, food types or restaurants and follow friends or experts to see what they like.

The Foodspotting acquisition made sense for both parties, says Alexa Andrzejewski, cofounder of the startup, and now an interface designer with OpenTable. “We both realized we could create smarter experiences if we could integrate more deeply by, for example, recommending dishes when you [the consumer] make reservations, to enabling restaurants to show their best dishes,” she wrote in a blog after the sale.

By featuring images of favorite dishes from Foodspotting, OpenTable is able to offer a more visual experience for diners on its restaurant pages. Restaurants can add their own images to Foodspotting to highlight specials or their favorites.

Both Foodspotting and the “Places I’ve Eaten” app provide additional outlets for consumer conversation about dining, and two more ways restaurants can engage their customers.

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