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Want a last-minute reservation at a popular restaurant at 8 p.m. on a Friday? D.C. now has two apps for that—if you’re willing to pay.
San Francisco-based Table8 launched here in January, offering otherwise unavailable tables at trendy spots like Minibar, Kapnos, and Fiola Mare to anyone willing to cough up $20 to $50 for a two-top.
Today, one of the service’s competitors, Resy, is launching in D.C. The New York-based app functions similarly to Table8: If the dining room isn’t full, you can book a table for free, just like OpenTable. But when seats become scarce, a reservation fee of up to $25 per person goes into effect. (All tables are free for the next two weeks.) Resy will partner with about 15 local restaurants to start, including Rural Society, Mintwood Place, Sushi Taro, Tosca, and Peter Chang in Arlington. Some places like Doi Moi and Estadio are on both Resy and Table8. All of Resy’s reservations are confirmed via text message.
Co-founders Ben Leventhal, a George Washington University alum who co-founded Eater, and tech entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk first launched Resy in New York in June of 2014. D.C. is their fourth market after Los Angeles and Miami.
Unlike Table8 whose target demographic is business travelers, many of whom have expense accounts, Leventhal says his service is more focused on locals. Leventhal also says it’s up to the restaurants how many tables they want to offer through Resy. It could be five to 10 tables—or just one. (Conversely, Table8 co-founder Santosh Jayaram claims it will never take more than 8 to 10 percent of a restaurant’s seating inventory for paid reservations.)
In the coming weeks, Resy will also offer prepackaged deals at certain places during off-peak times. For example, a restaurant in New York offers a lobster roll and a glass of rosé for a pre-paid $25 per person at 6 p.m. “There’s sort of this super untapped idea of fast fine dining. You want the service, you want the atmosphere, you want the chef, but instead of a two-and-a-half hour meal, you want an hour meal,” Leventhal says.
The idea of paying for reservations has met its fair share of controversy. Critics consider the practice of charging for something that’s always been free to be icky and unfair. You can also see it as the online equivalent to slipping the maitre d’ some cash, which is, frankly, bribery.
Leventhal, unsurprisingly, does not see it this way. “You’re not cutting the line,” he says. “Everyone has equal access to tables on Resy, so for that reason, it’s not some sort of underhanded transaction.” He adds that restaurants are by and large investing the money from the the reservation fee (which they split with Resy) back into the dining room. “It’s an extra guy on the line who’s making the food better. Or it’s an extra server on the floor making the service better,” Leventhal says.
Proponents of charging for prime time tables often compare it to Uber surge pricing or paying extra for a ticket to a sold-out concert on StubHub. For Leventhal, it’s ultimately about convenience.
“You use the app and you find that your eight o’clock table at Peter Chang is there in two taps and you don’t have to sit in front of the restaurant for an hour,” Leventhal says. “You pay $20 for that convenience. That’s way cheaper than the convenience fee on a lot of other things.”
Y&H devoted an entire column back in February to whether charging for reservations is a good idea or not. Read it here.