Resy Charges Users for Dinner Reservations

PHOTO: Tax, tip . . . and table not included? New app bets patrons are willing to pay for in-demand reservations.

You already know there’s no such thing as a free lunch. But these days, you might find yourself paying for a table as well.

Once Resy officially launches at the end of the month, the sleek new app will offer patrons the opportunity to pay for in-demand reservations at exclusive eateries.

The idea is that discerning customers are willing to shell out for a hassle-free seat—or several—at some of the city’s buzziest restaurants.

Sound unlikely? Don’t be so sure.

A team of industry veterans is betting that at least a fraction of foodies is prepared to put its money where its mouth is.

The app is the brainchild of industry veteran Ben Leventhal and financial investor Gary Vaynerchuk. The duo dreamed up the concept at—what else?—a certain velvet-rope restaurant. The venue had been booked solid, but Leventhal called a friend to get them inside. Still, the exchange got them “talking about the state of restaurants” and the fact that regular eaters are not in a position to pull rank as they could.

Leventhal remembers wondering why no one had invented a "kind of Uber for reservations" -- an intuitive platform that would offer customers the chance to claim the tables they craved. With Resy, Leventhal and Vaynerchuk are determined to do just that—for a price.

Already available for limited download, Resy shows users up-to-the-minute reservations that are available in their area on a given evening. They tap—once, twice -- and a choice table is theirs. Price depends on demand.

In an interview with Eater.com, Leventhal explained, "Tables will vary in price, two bar seats on a Tuesday night at Charlie Bird might be ten bucks a piece and Saturday night at Minetta Tavern might be closer to fifty."

Leventhal and Vaynerchuk are banking on a class of glittery New Yorkers to welcome the technology. As anyone who has ever been so unlucky as to find himself stranded and hungry on the corner of Kenmare Street can imagine, some will.

But Resy does not appeal only to demanding diners. It benefits the restaurants that partner with it as well. Leventhal, himself a founder of Eater.com, said that industry reception to the platform has been positive. Don’t take his word for it. Such buzzy kitchens as Estela and Lure Fishbar have already signed up.

"We’re addressing an obvious need for restaurants, which is to provide tables for customers when they want them,” says Leventhal. And while he is loath to disclose financial details, Leventhal promises that Resy is committed to being as generous as possible in its partnerships.

Unlike OpenTable, which charges restaurants a flat fee on each cover booked through its software, Resy shares its profits with the establishments that operate on it. Still, Resy is a business and someone has to pay. By flipping the traditional reservations model, Resy leaves its users with the bill. Having trouble stomaching it? You’re not alone. The model has its critics.

Since announcing the application in May, Leventhal and Vaynerchuk have fielded a barrage of complaints that claim Resy is elitist. Responding to the application on Twitter, New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells wrote, “I book a lot of reservations. And last minute tables DO exist. They're free, plentiful & often easier to get than if you call a month ahead.” Echoing Wells in more colorful characters, food writer and editor Gabriella Gershenson tweeted, “Resy belongs in American Psycho's New York City.”

Restaurant critic and Eater.com contributor Ryan Sutton is not so much interested in the functionality of the platform as he is invested in the overall shift in hospitality that Resy represents. “This is a trend that we've seen develop for the past several years,” Sutton observes. “Some restaurants charge for bread now. Some—not a whole lot—charge for water. There has been an increase in no-show fees or fees that charge you the full cost of your meal when you cancel. I see [Resy] as part of that larger trend that’s moving power from the consumer to the restaurants.”

And while Sutton concedes that it may sound “nefarious,” Mile End Deli and Black Seed Bagels co-owner Noah Bernamoff argues that Resy simply demonstrates a brand of pure “capitalist-marketing thinking. It's high demand, low supply.” As someone whose eateries have contended with obsessive foodies before, Bernamoff is confident that Resy will find its fan base.

“Some people are like, ‘Well, [Resy] is not democratic.’ But maybe it’s the most democratic,” Bernamoff mused. “I certainly think it’s more democratic than those restaurants that make you call at 9am every morning for four weeks or something just to get a reservation."

That is, Bernamoff would likely deem it more egalitarian than the system that storied restaurateur Ed Schoenfeld uses at his rabidly popular Red Farm restaurants and at Decoy—the hush-hush underground table he operates in the West Village. While Red Farm does not technically accept reservations, it has established an alternative system to handle clamoring crowds. Guests who call the restaurant on the day they’d like to dine are placed on an unofficial wait list. Those who call back in the afternoon can get a sense of when to stop in for dinner.

The system at Decoy is slightly more straightforward. To tuck into one of chef Joe Ng’s fabled Peking ducks, guests must either phone a land line or email a designated address to “start a conversation” with the restaurant. “Certainly, there’s a group who will say that it’s a pain in the ass,” said Schoenfeld. “But the system we use works. It keeps our restaurants much fuller and it gets us talking to our customers.”

Unlike virtual applications or online management systems, Schoenfeld insisted that his “old-fashioned” approach fosters “the beginning of a relationship” between his restaurants and customers. He credits it with his success in a notoriously fickle business. “I always say we try to take good care of everybody and better care of some people,” says Schoenfeld. “You don't have to be Gwyneth Paltrow to get good service. We reward our regular customers. Not that we want to discriminate against anyone, but if you come to our restaurant three days a week, we’re going to take care of you."

The question remains just how much customers want to spend on a special evening and to whom they want their dollars to go once they decide.

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