Would You Pay for a Restaurant Reservation?
Getting a restaurant reservation for a popular restaurant can sometimes feel like an impossible task. A friend of mine once wrote a long, lovely letter to a restaurant owner to get a reservation, while another friend was able to land a reservation by using a concierge service via his credit card. I tend to wait until the hype has died down a bit before making an attempt to dine at whatever restaurant just received a load of glowing reviews, or join a dinner party that managed to get a reservation through some kind of hookup.
But as our own Matt Buchanan, who co-edits our sister site, writes in The New York Times Magazine this week, the hard-to-get restaurant reservation is being solved (“solved”) by—you guessed it—tech start-ups:
Inspired by how we pay for concerts, airline tickets and, more recently, transportation through the car-hailing service Uber, more and more apps and reservation systems have homed in on disrupting a fundamental ritual: how we book a table. Table 8 in San Francisco sells reservations at popular restaurants just days in advance; Zurvu scours the best open tables on OpenTable; Reserve, a start-up created by founders of Uber and Foursquare, aims to be a full-fledged digital concierge; SeatMe, which was acquired by Yelp, allows restaurants to ping eager diners if tables open up at the last minute. “This is a space that hasn’t seen a lot of innovation since 1998,” which is “when OpenTable first started taking online reservations,” says Brian Mayer, the founder of ReservationHop, yet another new reservation-selling service. This summer, McNally’s restaurant group teamed up with Resy, a service that sells reservations for tables at peak times. Now, anyone hankering for a Black Label burger can pay $20 for a table at 7:30 p.m.
In retrospect, this seems inevitable. David Chang talks about how he envisioned selling restaurant reservations like the way we buy theater tickets: the closer you want to sit to the stage (or the closer you want to eat at the most popular dining hour of 8 p.m.), the more you’d have to shell out. To his credit, Chang says this kind of premium pricing isn’t “something in the spirit of who” they are.
I’d never pay for a restaurant reservation (unless it’s the model that a restaurant like Alinea uses, which deducts 100 percent of the cost of reserving a table from your bill), much in the same way that I’d refuse to go to any bar that charges a cover at the door.
Perhaps it’s a class thing; as Matt writes, Resy “allows its clients to put a premium on prime-time seats while gently pushing cost-conscious customers to time slots they have more trouble filling.” In other words, in this world, the poor are gently asked to eat earlier, or they’re out of luck.
To Chang’s point: Earlier this summer, I watched the Tony-award winning musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder with two “cost-conscious” friends. We sat in the very back row. In one number, an actor sings a song called “I Don’t Understand the Poor” and pauses for a moment to break the fourth wall, motioning to all of us in the back row. The theater-goers sitting in the front row turned around to look at us and laughed nervously. “We’re sorry!” they seemed to say.
Photo: Leslie Kalohi