CHICAGO - Dozens of Chicago restaurant owners were scratching their heads Thursday over a fake reservation scam.
An employee of the restaurant reservation app OpenTable made a few hundred false reservations at 45 restaurants.
Empty tables. Lots of them. Not a welcome sight to a restaurant owner or a busboy or waitress for that matter. But thanks to a scheme by an employee of OpenTable, there have been hundreds of empty tables at 45 different Chicago restaurants for the last few months.
"This individual was making reservations, confirming them. So we block off the tables and then they would not show up," said Pete DeCastro, owner of Tavern on the Park.
That's because they were all fake. The targeted restaurants all use a competing app called Reserve for customers to make reservations.
"A resource like OpenTable that should be supporting the industry did something so underhanded. I think it was dirty pool," said Ashok Selvam.
Open Table said a rogue employee who has since been fired was responsible. The CEO issued a statement that said in part: "On behalf of OpenTable, I extend our sincerest apologies to the restaurant community in Chicago and to Reserve for this disgraceful, unsanctioned behavior."
The fake reservations peaked on Valentine's Day- a huge day for restaurants. Pete DeCastro said almost all his customers that night have reservations.
"Someone blocks that off on you and limits the revenue for your staff and for us out of spite what they say is spite? I don't believe it, sorry," DeCastro said.
OpenTable has offered to reimburse restaurants for their losses but the owner of Tavern on the Park said that's nice, but it's very difficult to estimate the amount, and it doesn't take into account the thousands of dollars in lost tips for employees like waitresses and bartenders.