The complete consolidation of Kayak and OpenTable's teams means OpenTable — Booking Holdings' only restaurant business — won't have a dedicated leader. It's disappointing to lose one of the few female CEOs in the restaurant tech space, especially the one who's arguably the most visible.
— Kristen Hawley
Christa Quarles will step down as OpenTable CEO, effective at the end of the year. Quarles notified OpenTable staff via email this morning.
Kayak CEO Steve Hafner will take the lead at OpenTable with no plans to name a new CEO. “It’s a recognition that we’ve combined both OpenTable and Kayak functionally, by department. We have one marketing team, one finance team, one product team,” he said.
Kayak, like OpenTable, is part of the larger Booking Holdings group.
In June parent company Booking Holdings made big executive changes at OpenTable, removing some of Quarles’ authority and resources and placing her under Hafner. As part of the restructuring, which Hafner characterized as a directional change in a memo to OpenTable staff, other high-level positions at OpenTable were eliminated, including its chief financial officer role and senior marketing and product positions. Other high-level employees were shifted under Kayak’s structure: OpenTable’s chief technology officer and general counsel now report to Kayak executives with the same titles.
Despite the consolidation, Hafner said that parent company Booking Holdings “absolutely” understands OpenTable’s value. “If someone came along and offered me $4 billion for OpenTable, I wouldn’t sell it. I think it’s worth far more.”
Quarles was named OpenTable’s chief financial officer in May of 2015, then assumed the role of interim CEO in September. She was named permanent CEO in November 2015, over a year after the company’s $2.6 billion acquisition by Booking Holdings, then named The Priceline Group.
During her tenure, Quarles spearheaded big changes at the company, from accelerated and informed product development to a revamped hiring process. “If you can get your organization to a place where the people are loving that they are coming to work, then your turnover is going to be less, you are going to have fewer expenses, you are going to have better service — all of this is going to yield a result for your business. That’s something that I am excited about, we’ve done a few things and continue to do more. And for me it’s personal,” she said onstage at last month’s Skift Restaurants Forum. “I have struggled in very male-dominated industries throughout my life and I think I am very excited to see the changes that are starting to happen in particular in the restaurant industry.”
She worked to move OpenTable from its former occasion-based white tablecloth image to broaden the range of restaurants the company serves. During her first year with the company, she met with 120 chefs, restaurateurs, and general managers in an effort to inform product changes.
Quarles has spoken publicly about the importance of diversity in the workplace. Last year, she published a call out to the market to increase female representation at the corporate level to a 50/50 ratio. “The reason we said it was important is because not just that it’s the right thing to do from a moral objective. It’s actually better for business,” she said. “The data has proven over and over again, that when people they feel like if you come into work and actually do their job or feel like they belong, they perform better. So I look at it as more of a fiduciary obligation that we have.”
In the first quarter after implementing a new process for engineering hires, the company hired an equal number of male and female engineers, a stark contrast from many large tech companies. (Recode reported last year that just 27 percent of technical roles at major companies are held by women.)
More Changes to Come
At this year’s Skift Global Forum, Booking Holdings CEO Glenn Fogel admitted OpenTable’s business lags behind where he wants it to be. “We have not done everything I wanted to do when we did the deal with OpenTable… yet.”
Hafner remained consistent in his message that the consolidation of Kayak and OpenTable’s teams does not represent decreased interest from their parent company. Priceline took a $941 million write-down on OpenTable two years ago. “The write-down didn’t reflect our opinion of what its value was, it reflected our auditor’s opinion of what the value was,” he said.
Instead, he outlined four major company initiatives he plans to accelerate. Some seem directly positioned to compete against younger companies like Resy, which were able to go to market with more modern technology, identifying customer complaints and perceived weaknesses in the incumbent OpenTable. His top priorities include transitioning restaurants from OpenTable’s outdated in-restaurant hardware to its new, cloud-based GuestCenter product, and diving deeper into point-of-sale system connectivity in order to provide restaurants with more data about OpenTable diners.
Hafner also said that the company has been experimenting with its pricing structure, long a lament of some restaurant customers. It charges $1 per seated diner delivered through an OpenTable platform on top of a monthly fee. “We’ve been doing a lot of tests and I’m very confident we’ll announce a change in our pricing model in the next quarter or so,” he said.
And, finally, what he called original premise of why Booking Holdings bought OpenTable: to take the company global. “I think restaurants are probably the one category where, specifically, an American company has not exported that business model and that success internationally,” he said.
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