It seems like it used to be so simple: If you wanted to eat at a new or popular restaurant, you would call them, and they would seat you if they had room. No more: Apps like OpenTable, Resy, and Tock dominate the reservation landscape, and even though they mainly exist to make restaurant owners’ jobs easier, they are inarguably more convenient for diners, too — provided you can find a table you actually want. Increasingly, reservation apps make it clear that not all diners are weighted equally in the minds of restaurant reservationists.
So, is there any way to game the system? Grub Street has put together this helpful FAQ for anyone who’s having trouble nailing down that 8 o’clock two-top.
Help! My friend is coming to town this weekend. She really wants to try a great new restaurant, but everything is booked!
Everything is not booked. As you read this, right now, every single restaurant in New York City has room for a party of two to eat this very weekend.
Dude, you’re wrong. I scrolled all through OpenTable, Resy, and Tock. All the good places are gone. They don’t even have tables at, like, 5 o’clock or midnight. It’s hopeless!
It’s not hopeless. Restaurants release certain tables on those apps, and they hold back other tables for all sorts of reasons: keeping something open in case VIPs or regulars want them, purposely keeping part of the dining room empty while a new restaurant staff gets up to speed, or maybe just keeping prime-time tables off the services to give the appearance of high demand.
Okay, so how do I get one of those tables?
Are you familiar with the terms “PX” or “PPX”?
Should I be?
These are VIP designations for diners, and if you don’t know them, or don’t personally know someone who works at the restaurant where you want to eat, you won’t have much luck working outside the system.
Do you have Resy Select?
WTF is that?
Nobody is exactly sure, but think of it as a VIP tier for people who use Resy, which grants access to tables that aren’t otherwise available to the public. The service’s FAQ page says, “Resy Select members are Resy’s most sophisticated diners. They eat out frequently, notify regularly, and rarely late cancel or no-show.”
I’m sophisticated! I want it! How do I get it?
It’s invitation only, so if you don’t have it, you can’t get it.
Would you be willing to pay for a similar thing from Tock?
Maybe! How much does it cost?
Unclear. The company just announced its own service called Tock Time. It will cost … something, but “the annual subscription price is being determined.”
That doesn’t help me this weekend! Can I grease the hosts?
As in … bribe them … with paper money?
Or Venmo! I’m flexible.
Please don’t try to bribe a restaurant’s host with any kind of currency. Even if it works, which it won’t, it’s a very bad look.
What if I skip the apps and just call the restaurant?
You can always try to call and plead your case, but lots of places don’t publish their phone numbers because they’d really prefer if the general public didn’t call. Besides, if a restaurant’s staff is holding back tables for a specific reason, that means they also won’t simply give them away because someone calls and asks nicely. Unless you luck out at the last minute and nab a table that would otherwise sit empty, you’ll probably be shut out there too.
Are you telling me that if I’m just some normal dude, I won’t be able to get into these restaurants?
We’re not saying it’s fair! This is just the way things are. But here’s another question: Have you considered eating at a restaurant that hasn’t opened in the last, say, three or four months, or just gotten a glowing review?
Ick, no. Old news!
You know how people want to live in an antiquated world of completely democratic restaurant reservations, where customers can simply call ahead, reserve a table, and show up?
I’m getting the sense that’s not how it works.
Not really! It’s about status and trading favors, especially at new restaurants. But at spots that are well into at least their second year, the reservations will work a little more like you want them to. The other bonus is that these are the places that are fully up to speed, so the food is likely to be more consistent, the service is going to be genuinely warm, and the overall meal will probably be — dare we say? — more enjoyable.
Maybe I can try my luck as a walk-in?
Look, some restaurants really are exceedingly popular and don’t have much availability, just as there are very real economic reasons why some popular restaurants can charge more for dinner on a Saturday than they do on a Tuesday. But increasingly, it seems restaurant owners and reservation services are happy to put more layers between you and a desired table, not fewer. It would seem they are fine with giving the impression that they don’t want you to eat there, and if that’s the case, maybe you should just return the favor and eat somewhere else. There are plenty of places to eat, especially in a city like New York, and you’ll probably have a better meal if you aren’t surrounded by the types of people who are okay with the idea of paying extra money for a restaurant reservation.