Using fake names, OpenTable staffer used rival software to make restaurants lose money

By Tim Nelson
Updated September 24, 2018
Credit: MangoStar_Studio/Getty Images

Despite it’s outward focus on wellness and "mindfulness," the tech world is actually a pretty cutthroat place. And anyone who’s looked at the Theranos story closely knows that even the most outwardly upstanding companies can harbor employees who use deception and subterfuge to get what they want. Sometimes, that shady behavior can even impact restaurant reservations.

Recently, a “rogue” OpenTable employee was charged in U.S. District Court with a single count of wire fraud. The reason? He made a bunch of bogus reservations at Chicago restaurants that he had no intention of fulfilling using Reserve, a competing software platform. Employing aliases such as Die Hard villain “Hans Gruber” and quintessential ‘that guy’ actor “Jimmy Smits” along with fake emails addresses and phone numbers, Steven Addison allegedly booked up tables at Chicago dining hotspots (frequently on big nights like New Year’s or Valentine’s Day) he had no intention of visiting. The restaurants he duped would end up losing potential revenue from real customers who would otherwise be there.

His spree of restaurant trolling spanned from November 2017 to February 2018, claiming more than 1,200 subsequently unoccupied restaurant seats across 300 reservations that affected 45 restaurants. Reserve software engineers eventually got wind of what was going on and shut Addison down. OpenTable CEO Christa Quarles subsequently issued a public statement chastising the “disgraceful, unsactioned behavior”, which noted that Addison was fired within 48 hours of OpenTable’s discovery of the corporate malfeasance.

From the sound of it, the whole operation was just a case of Addison really trying to do his part to get the company ahead of the competition. According to the Chicago Sun Times, prosecutors agreed with OpenTable that Addison “made the reservations of his own accord and did not personally profit from the scheme.”

That’s left some restaurateurs like Peter de Castro, whose restaurant Tavern in the Park lost about five percent of December sales due to the scheme, scratching their heads.

“What incentive did this ‘rogue’ employee have?” the Sun Times says Castro asked back back in March when news of the scheme went public. “It just doesn’t make sense that this employee would do this out of spite.”

Hopefully more answers on what motivated Addison to mess with restaurants using a rival company’s software will be forthcoming during his arraignment on Tuesday the 25th of September. Until then, maîttre-d’s should probably take a second look at their reservation book just to be safe. Because if they think a middle-aged actor is coming into their Chicago restaurant on a busy night, they may have another thing coming.