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Picking the restaurant for dinner is hard. Whether it’s a date, or just colleagues or friends hanging out, there’s all kinds of unspoken pressure on the person who picks the restaurant. If the food’s terrible, it must mean I’m terrible. And what if I can’t get a reservation anywhere, and we end up eating at McDonald’s? It’s just all so overwhelming.

Luckily for me, OpenTable’s got my back. OpenTable is a massive (and still growing) system of restaurants, foodies and tools for helping you find the right restaurant as well as always getting a table.

First, you’ll see this screen below (which looks an awful lot like a parking screen for an ad company, but really isn’t). Pick your locale – most major American cities are well-represented by OpenTable, as are a number of international cities. Then, you can refine your search even more: by a more narrow location, by type of food, or even by date and time (eliminating any restaurant that might be closed when you want to eat).



If you still can’t decide, let the users of OpenTable help. Every restaurant you’ll see has reviews from OpenTable users who have been there, and the site even aggregates some of the most popular and best-reviewed restaurants in a variety of categories, from “Good for Groups” to “Best Ambience.” Of course, there are also tons of “Best ____ Food” lists as well, for every locale you choose.

To further aid you in finding the right restaurant, every listing comes with useful information: price range, accepted cards, whether there’s a bar or not, where to park, and lots more, all based on giving you as much information as possible to make your food run even better.

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Once you’ve narrowed it down to the perfect spot, you choose your date, time, and size of party that you want a table for. OpenTable then does a search, and looks for the best available reservation times, and comes back to you with some options. I tried a place for Sunday brunch at 12pm, and got three reservation possibilities back in only a few seconds.

Choose your reservation time, log in (you can create a temporary account, or create a free account on OpenTable for this part), and you’re done! OpenTable sends you an email confirming your reservation, and you’re all set. Cancelling or changing your reservation is easy, as is exporting the event to your Outlook calendar.

OpenTable also lets you publish your reservation information to Facebook, or send invitations by email to your event – this makes OpenTable into a one-stop event planner, at least for the basics.

The reason OpenTable’s so great, as I see it, is that it’s better than you at knowing what’s going on. It’s connected directly to all the restaurants, so its information is as up-to-date as the restaurant itself, and reservations are made internally and easily, rather than OpenTable just acting as a middleman. Your reservation is always certain, and always correct.

OpenTable makes a once-annoying and complicated process extremely simple. Just log in, click, and you’re set – no phone calls, no guessing game about when to arrive; OpenTable does the work for you, and you just show up when you’re supposed to. That’s my kind of dining experience.

Are there other great apps that making eating even better? If you know any, please share them with us in the comments.

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Photo: wallyg

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