This idea seems to pop up every year— an online service which can get you in to hard-to-get-into restaurants for a price. Usually it’s been sort of like an Open Table crossed with the velvet rope at Studio 54— they would take inventory from the restaurants and resell it online at a higher price, taking advantage of the demand for certain hot seats. The newest version seems to be taking a somewhat older-school tack: essentially, for $50+, they will act like a concierge and go out and find you a table. It’s called TableHost, launching this week here, with a number of top business dinner type spots on its list (Henri, Moto, Gene & Georgetti’s, etc.) but also the notable absence of the places that are genuinely hard to get into (Next, Girl & the Goat, etc.). (We’re setting aside the fact that it has some database errors, like putting half the restaurants in the city in Albany Park, for the moment.) So what are the odds for something like this working?
We’re skeptical but not immediately dismissive about this idea. We doubt that Chicagoans will ever pay extra money to get into the hot places just because they’re hot; except maybe in the case of Next, there are always too many good new places that you can get into that are far more than second best substitutes. (Nobody ever left dinner at Vera really sorry they didn’t get into Girl & the Goat; they leave congratulating themselves on their find.) And something in the Chicago soul rebels at too much of these gotta-be-seen-at-the-where-to-be-seen places mentality; that’s a New York thing, it’s why we don’t have all-gin bars.
But we can see a use within corporate environments for a service that can do what Don Draper’s secretary used to do, which is, know the ironclad-safe places for a business dinner, and get him in without a hitch. That’s less about getting into just the right place as it is being sure that something will not be a wrong place. And if TableHost can offer a set of vetted, utterly reliable spots to the junior executive who’s forced to pick the restaurant for his bosses and has no clue where to go personally, $50 will be a small price to pay… or rather, expense.