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Rail Paul

Buying Reservations

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It's easier to get a table at Per Se than a prime time table at Babbo. 5pm and 10pm sittings are not too difficult.

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I like the idea of menu prices which change based on seating time, that's an impressive contribution to the capitalist art.

 

some restaurants are doing it already with early (5-6:30) prix fixe menus at friendly prices - a version of early bird but nobody in nyc would call it that, of course. and you see it happen on, say, New Year's Eve - early seatings are sometimes less expensive

 

i agree, i like that idea too. and it would take care of all those 5pm tables that rarely get filled. except for theater district restaurants, where the prices would be reverse

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Yep, some of the "discounts" are a way for restaurants to price discriminate (within the sense of this term used for basic economic theory, not in any other sense) with respect to diners.

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Guest Aaron T

There are already many restaurants which give a discount for early dining.

 

They tend to refer to it as "pre theater" even if they are not near the theater district as this sounds more classy.

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Guest Aaron T

The Wall Street Journal had a story on difficult reservations in yesterday's paper:

 

Mariangela Sassi, a 35-year-old marketing consultant in San Francisco, has dined at fine restaurants around the world. But every time she calls the Slanted Door in her own hometown, she gets the same answer: Sorry, no tables.

 

What she should try next time: Sending an email to the BlackBerry of Debbie Phan, the restaurant's general manager, at debbie@slanteddoor.com. That's what the restaurant's regulars and VIPs do when they want to finagle a table no one else can get.

 

Times are tough for the mere mortal who wants to land a table at a top spot. That's because recent changes in the restaurant world, from a new cottage industry of "table scalpers" who nab desirable seats and then resell them to the shrinking number of tables of top eateries, have turned getting reservations into a global blood sport.

 

We set out to crack the code. Canvassing restaurateurs, maitre d's and general managers at about 40 of the hardest-to-get-into restaurants around the world, we learned the exact times tables open up (at Quince in San Francisco, it's sharply at noon) and the gatekeepers who VIPs tap when they want a seat (at Chicago's Tru, managing partner Scott Barton says to call him on his cellphone, currently 312-493-4281).

 

We also enlisted Dapper, a company that designs software to track information published on the Web. Dapper searched OpenTable, one of the largest online restaurant-reservation services, for 7 p.m. Saturday-night bookings at 120 places. It checked for tables roughly every half-hour for six weeks. Finally, several independent experts and statisticians analyzed the results.

TRICKS OF THE TRADE

 

• See tips for getting a reservation at some of the most exclusive restaurants in the world.

 

• See charts detailing the best times to reserve tables at five top restaurants.

 

• One Tough Table: Is the Waverly Inn Worth It?

 

Nearly 400,000 attempted reservations later, we discovered some basic rules for booking tables anywhere, as well as some that apply to specific restaurants. One rule: Plan ahead -- but not too far ahead. It turned out the "sweet spot" for advance booking is four weeks out, a window that gave us a success rate on OpenTable of about 47%. That dropped to 35% when we tried to book 40 days ahead.

 

Not that spontaneity doesn't pay off. From Excelsior in Boston to New York's Morimoto, certain restaurants shared a pattern. Tables were plentiful with about two weeks notice, then scarce a week out. But around Thursday the week we wanted to dine, a bunch of spots opened up -- the likely result of restaurants confirming reservations two or three days out then putting cancellations back in the system.

 

There are also techniques to be learned from people who make it either their business or their hobby to get into so-called impossible places. Aren Sandersen, a 28-year-old software engineer in San Francisco, spent several nights, throughout the course of a few weeks, staying up late and pinging OpenTable again and again, searching for a table at the famously difficult French Laundry in the Napa Valley. Eventually, he discovered that success was most likely if he set his clock to Time.gov, then clicked "reload" at exactly 11:59:55 p.m.

 

After what he calls an "exquisite," meal at the restaurant, Mr. Sandersen created a Web site called TheSandersens.com where he posted his tips and started offering a free service to help others book at the restaurant. "Are you struggling to make French Laundry reservations? Tired of calling and getting only busy signals?" a note on the home page reads. "No longer!"

 

The 120 restaurants tested on Open Table were chosen based on some admittedly subjective criteria, including a reputation for being hard to get into and suggestions from Zagat Survey editors. OpenTable's senior director of consumer marketing, Ann Shepherd, says the restaurants are in unusually high demand and just as difficult to get into over the phone as they are on the site.

 

In many, though not all, cases, the reputations were warranted. In roughly 3,000 attempts, no 7 p.m. seats turned up at Del Posto in New York or the Vetri in Philadelphia. And there wasn't a single table -- at any time on any Saturday night -- at Dantanna's in Atlanta. One reason may be that certain restaurants hold back some or all of their tables from the site's reservation system. OpenTable says that practice is uncommon and that it tries to flag users when it occurs.

 

Overall, we got the table we wanted a third of the time, with a higher success rate in some cities than others. In Miami, that number jumped to 70%, in part because the restaurants in the test, like David Bouley Evolution, Chef Allen's and Michy's -- all helmed by celebrity chefs -- are relatively large. In more than nine out of 10 attempts, tables turned up at Ceiba in Washington, D'Amico Cucina in Minneapolis and Rubicon and Kuleto's in San Francisco.

 

A willingness to eat early helps. The OpenTable test succeeded six times more often in securing a table before 7 p.m. than after. Some restaurateurs say they need help filling early tables, but toward the end of the night, they're often filled by walk-ins or people who linger over dessert and coffee.

 

If you're not using OpenTable, one trick is to call the person in charge of doling out last-minute tables. These are often set aside to be used at the discretion of the chef, the owner or investors. Several restaurateurs provided contact information for publication. Theodore "Teddy" Suric, managing partner at davidburke&donatella in New York, says he can currently be reached at 917-584-9295, though he warns against people calling during certain hours: "2:30 to 4:30 a.m., that's when I need to sleep," he says.

 

Once a potential patron gets someone like Mr. Suric on the phone, they have to make a case for why they deserve a last-minute table. Restaurateurs across the board say they're turned off by people claiming to be hot shots or big spenders. There are no guarantees, they say, but special circumstances -- a spouse's birthday, an important client coming to town, a burning desire to visit the restaurant while in town for the weekend -- often get consideration.

 

The scarcity of top tables reflects several shifts in the dining scene. For one thing, elite restaurants are getting smaller; like couture lines in the fashion industry, small eateries can generate press and draw celebrity patrons, thus boosting a chef's profile. Vetri in Philadelphia has 11 tables and Schwa in Chicago has 13. Thomas Keller's Per Se in New York has 15 tables. Most of these places book their Saturday night tables within a few minutes of opening the reservation books months in advance.

 

Making matters more competitive, in today's world of food blogs and reality shows about chefs, that little hole-in-the-wall can now become a global sensation. A case in point is El Bulli, perhaps the world's hardest-to-land dining destination. The 50-seat restaurant is in Rosas, Spain, 110 miles north of the Barcelona airport. Open only between April and September each year, El Bulli books its entire season in mid-October of the prior year.

 

New services that sell reservations are also cropping up. Primetimetables.com, for example, books tables at top Manhattan restaurants and resells them. Buyers pay a $450 annual membership fee plus about $30 per reservation. The site, which specializes in last-minute reservations, was launched last year by Pascal Riffaud, a former concierge at the St. Regis in New York and the Ritz in Paris. Mr. Riffaud says he won't reveal his technique for getting tables. When diners sign up they get a welcome email explaining that reservations are made under fake names. This is so they can be secured in advance.

 

Another site, Weekend Epicure NYC, launched in February. It sells two-person reservations at New York City restaurants for a $35 service fee, and also uses fake names. Restaurants say they don't like scalping or the use of fake names, but say they have no way to crack down on either practice. "We aren't going to check IDs at the door," says Drew Nieporent, owner of Myriad Restaurant Group, which owns Nobu in New York and London.

 

Hotel, credit-card and, more recently, personal concierges are also snapping up more seats these days: American Express offers a concierge service that makes reservations for its Platinum and Centurion card members at about 1,000 restaurants around the world. For the past two years, the service has booked 50% more tables for clients each year, says Young Yun, senior lifestyle benefits manager. Some restaurants, including New York's Le Cirque and Spago in Beverly Hills, Calif., hold a table a night exclusively for the service, while other restaurants say they treat American Express like any other concierge and try to accommodate it when possible, with no guarantees.

 

Often, the only advantage concierges have over the average person looking for a table is that they know when to call. Most in-demand restaurants start taking reservations somewhere between 30 and 90 days in advance, and begin taking calls at a specific time. American Express "calls every day at 9 a.m.," says Scott Reinhardt, assistant general manager at Gramercy Tavern in New York.

 

At San Francisco's Quince, tables are booked one month to the calendar day in advance -- meaning tables for April 15 are opened up on March 15, and the reservationist starts taking calls at exactly noon. Co-owner Lindsay Tusk says that tables usually fill up within the first half-hour. Alinea in Chicago opens its books two months ahead on the first day of each month; so, at 10 a.m. April 1, the restaurant will begin taking reservations for the month of June. Another Chicago hot spot, Frontera Grill, doesn't take reservations, but the restaurant sets aside a few tables every night for people who call to reserve at 8:30 a.m. on the day they want to dine.

 

OpenTable users can have a significant advantage at some restaurants, namely those that start taking names on a specific, advance day. Because spots go up on the site starting at midnight -- many hours before a restaurant reservationist starts taking live calls -- booking online gives diners a head start.

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Ultimately, the restaurant has an interest in capturing this spread (money paid for the reservation) and cutting out the middleman or middlewoman. As noted a few times upthread, the restaurant would fill these seats, so why is it allowing an intermediary to capture an element of pure profit?

 

I finally got my New Yorker issue in the mail and read the Ramsey piece...I was surprised at the high number of no-shows. Clearly a very big problem for a restaurant with few seats. I would think restaurants would be willing to put up with the middlemen assuming the people using them would be less inclined (having already spent some cash) to not show up, and also with the middlemen they can avoid the unpleasantness of taking credit card signature "guarantees" and all that. Come to think of it, I wonder how the intermediary services deal with that aspect of the reservation, when it is required.

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If Mariangela Sassi has dined at fine restaurants around the world, she should know better than to eat at Slanted Door.

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Loos like on reservation service has been busted, per Eater

 

Two months after PrimeTimeTables gripped the NY restaurant scene and tore it apart all at once, it seems the resy scalper faces a rough road ahead. We're told, via anonymous informant, Danny Meyer's camp has cracked the code and scratched PTT completely off their books; Keith McNally's reservations office is onto the 'reservation service provider', too, and has already started denying entry to people who show up with PTT resies.

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here we go again: TableExchange - somewhat different operating principle - ebay for resto resies

 

interesting - different - prices for restaurants. list here - $25 for Otto? $30 for Cookshop?? and Spice Market???

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Sammy's is so much better.. Its hot too. Russ and Daughters is cold.. I love all sorts of Chicken livers but am a bigger fan of the warmer Italian Crostini-esque kind.. Spotted Pig has a good version, Sammy's is far from Italian but, still hot and the added chicken fat just does wonders..

 

I am slowly trying to let it go.. ;)

 

I know this might sound snobby but, I am all for paying a little more to seperate myself from the masses.. :angry: Its up to the restaurants to police this if they dont like it.. That is unless these brokers are holding spots, they arent getting filled and then the restaurant suffers.. Then the restaurants should be able to take legal action against the brokers..

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well...a couple of these would be worth it. others are clearly aimed at tourists or expense account diners (which has always been the target market for this type of service)

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here we go again: TableExchange - somewhat different operating principle - ebay for resto resies

 

interesting - different - prices for restaurants. list here - $25 for Otto? $30 for Cookshop?? and Spice Market???

 

Caveat Emptor. A lot of the restaurants listed don't happen to be on Open Table. But, for example, you can get an 8.45 table for two at Red Cat on July 28 on Open Table instead of paying for an 8.30 on Table Exchange.

 

So - the idea is that you go on Open Table, take as many of the best tables as you can find, then sell them on Table Exchange? I guess it's a business.

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