American Express-owned Resy is far smaller than the reservations leader, OpenTable — it has 4,000 restaurants on its platform versus 54,000 for OpenTable — but it sees content as critical in its differentiation efforts.
Resy’s site reads more like a media site than a reservations platform, with curated lists and collections for where to eat and profiles of its partner restaurateurs. It’s using content to appeal to diners and restaurants alike. But to do that successfully, Resy has to serve diners content that they can trust but that also won’t upset or turn away the primary source of its revenues: restaurants.
In its latest step, Resy hired former San Francisco Chronicle food-and-wine editor and founding editor of Eater SF Paolo Lucchesi for a newly created role as vp and editorial director. Lucchesi will oversee the production of editorial content with an in-house team of four and a network of writers that’s united by a single objective: to help people discover and ultimately book restaurants.
Resy’s content will be a hybrid of what we traditionally define as branded content and editorial content.
“It’s somewhere in between,” said Victoria Vaynberg, Resy’s chief marketing officer. “Is it branded content? Technically, yes, but I’d say it’s the truest version of content marketing because we have authority and the right to do it. We’re building and providing the right content and not necessarily being influenced by factors like needing to make ad sales revenue.”
Future stories might take the form of exclusive sneak peeks of new restaurant openings or giving single-use cameras to restaurant staff so they can develop their own visual stories about their businesses.
“We’re not going to be breaking, news and there aren’t any reviews,” Lucchesi said. “We see this as an opportunity to bring an insider lens to these restaurants that we’re already working closely with.”
Different restaurant reservations platforms have employed different content strategies: OpenTable sees itself as a search engine for restaurants everywhere, while others, like SevenRooms, are purely B2B.
“We’re not focused on getting customers to know about SevenRooms,” said SevenRooms svp of marketing, Marybeth Sheppard. “The other reservation marketplaces do a great job of aggregating demand, but what we do is enable restaurants to take advantage of whatever marketing channel they want, like Google, Instagram, OpenTable, etc., to prioritize direct reservations.”
OpenTable, like Resy, develops curated content lists, but its approach is a mix of editorial and crowdsourced wisdom. Francesca Burke, director of content strategy at OpenTable said they’ve found “the most trusted content is, counterintuitively, not from experts but rather from people who are just like us.”
OpenTable also acts more like a directory for all restaurants, not just ones that use its service. Resy doesn’t list non-partner restaurants on its site or app, but will include them in its Hit Lists, quite purposely. “We do that because it builds up trust and makes us look more reputable,” Vaynberg said.
But even when you’re the biggest platform in the space, the market can be challenging. In 2016, OpenTable’s parent company, Booking Holdings, wrote down its value by $941 million, more than a third of what it paid for the company just two years before ($2.6 billion).
So far, Resy’s investments in content appear to be paying off. In April 2018, it relaunched its website and began highlighting curated content about its restaurants. To date, Resy.com page views are up 505% year over year and monthly active users in the app are up 133% year over year. The company also said its editorial emails, featuring content like The Hit List, New on Resy, features and events, are driving reservations up 4,000% year over year.
According to Comscore, Resy has seen a 130% increase in the number of monthly unique visitors to its website, both desktop and mobile, from September 2018 (435,000) to September 2019 (1 million). Comparatively, though, OpenTable still has far more unique visitors than Resy, with 8.9 million in September 2019.
Resy has to be careful not to upset its existing restaurant partners, especially as it tries to bring more onto its platform. Vaynberg said Resy offers additional marketing opportunities for its restaurants to participate in, including events and being featured in personalized, programmatic emails.
Resy wants to be the source that diners and restaurateurs turn to but doesn’t see itself as the new Google or OpenTable of where to eat.
Last year, Resy CEO Ben Leventhal, who previously founded Eater, said, “The idea that Resy or OpenTable could be a one-stop-shop for all your customers is an incredibly dated idea.” Google and Instagram, he said, have replaced OpenTable as the top of the discovery funnel for restaurants, with publishers like The New York Times, Eater and The Infatuation also near the top for “slivers of the population.”
Resy, Vaynberg said, doesn’t see itself as a direct competitor to those established publishers. The Times uses the Resy widget on its reviews and earns an affiliate commission whenever a reader books through it. Resy was also the official reservations platform provider for The Times’ inaugural food festival.