In the battle for restaurant reservations, it’s diners vs. bots

Bots are gobbling up all the hard-to-get dinner reservations, so businesses are fighting back.

Have you ever finished reading a list about the hottest new restaurants in your city only to find that you can’t get a reservation at a single one?

A robot hand and a white male hand in a suit jacket both reaching for a silver fork and knife on a gray background.

It’s because someone — or something — already booked them. And it’s making the restaurant industry a lot less fun.

Battle of the bots

Just like Taylor Swift concert tickets, hot restaurant reservations get snatched up instantly by bots (like this one) as soon as they’re posted.

Then, the people operating those bots look to turn a profit on reservation resale sites, which are multiplying:

  • On Appointment Trader, users buy and sell restaurant reservations. The site takes a 20%-30% cut of the sale price and has reportedly facilitated $2.4m+ in reservation sales since launching in 2021.
  • Cita is a “peer-to-peer” marketplace for buying and selling reservations. A Saturday night res for two at Semma, an Indian restaurant in New York City, was recently listed for $480.
  • For more frugal diners, ResX is free to use. Users can exchange reservations for tokens, which can be put toward a new booking. A $10 monthly subscription lets users access “premium” restaurants.

These marketplaces, unfortunately, are a lose-lose for the rest of us.

Diners trying to book the old-fashioned way — through apps like Resy, Tock, or OpenTable — can be out of luck.

As for restaurants: When bot-booked seats go unfilled, they lose out on cancellation fees charged to invalid credit cards, and on empty tables.

Now, restaurants are fighting back

Some are painstakingly combing through reservations to confirm that they’ve been booked by a human, while others are saving more spots for walk-ins.

And there are platforms that aim to partner with restaurants, rather than usurp them:

  • With Dorsia, users prepay a minimum spend to secure a reservation, which is calculated based on demand. That prepayment is then applied toward their total bill.
  • Resy’s Global Dining Access program gives American Express cardholders access to exclusive reservations.

Ultimately, restaurants are finding that the safest way to secure a reservation is to charge upfront.

So get ready to pay a reservation fee before you even step foot in a restaurant.

Topics: Restaurants

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