OpenTable Lets Out a Burp

Musical chairs at a company that relies on seating patrons is rarely a pretty sight.

Shares of Web-based reservations specialist OpenTable (Nasdaq: OPEN  ) opened sharply lower today after an executive shuffle snuffed out any sizzle that a blowout quarter could provide.

Jeff Jordan is stepping down as CEO. He will become the board's executive chairman, though BoomTown's connected Kara Swisher is reporting that he's likely heading to a major venture capital firm. OpenTable's CFO will take the helm.

The untested uncertainty comes at the end of a great quarter. Revenue climbed 59% to $33.7 million as adjusted net income nearly doubled to $0.28 a share. Analysts were banking on a non-GAAP profit of $0.23 a share on $33.5 million in revenue.

The model continues to gain steam. Seated diners through OpenTable's website and smartphone app climbed 55%. There are 62% more eateries on the platform than there were a year ago.

Don't let the fact that restaurants outpaced seated foodies lead you to believe that the service is becoming less popular on the individual eatery level. International acquisitions and organic additions blur the menu. If we key in on OpenTable's bread-and-butter North American operations, the 48% spike in diners easily surpasses the 26% increase in restaurants turning to the company to fill its tables. OpenTable becomes a meatier contributor to an upstart eatery's success with every passing quarter.

That final point is important. IAC's (Nasdaq: IACI  ) Urbanspoon has been trying to usher in a cheaper tablet-based electronic reservations book. Some have speculated that the National Restaurant Association may give this a shot. Yelp is also going public. The restaurant reviews website is an OpenTable partner, but who knows if public shareholders will clamor for growth in this niche.

The bearish speculation is intriguing, but it hasn't materialized.

OpenTable's shares may be as expensive as some of the haute cuisine establishments it serves, and that makes it vulnerable. It has blown past analyst profit targets in every single quarter as a public company, but a lot of the pop in the stock over the past year is the same helium that has lifted shares of Travelzoo and to a lesser extent The Knot higher.

Companies are hopping on the Groupon bandwagon by introducing niche-specific prepaid vouchers. This creates a disconnect between lofty earnings multiple today and the high margins that will be available in the future.

A speed bump -- like last night's game of musical chairs -- will trigger acrophobia in some, explaining today's sell-off in an otherwise model-affirming quarter. We'll see who gets their just deserts by the time the next quarter comes around.

Have you ever avoided a stock that seemed overpriced, only to find it trading substantially higher later? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

OpenTable is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers selection. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a fan of new stocks, and has even recommended several fresh IPOs to newsletter readers in the past -- including OpenTable. He does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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