These days, if you want to go to a hot restaurant, good luck getting in without a reservation. If you try to make one ahead of time, you’d better set your alarm and pounce as soon as they open. But sometimes black market dealers buy blocks of reservations. So some restaurants now have memberships for reservations.
Booking a seat can be a competitive sport, especially during peak hours such as 7 p.m., says Bon Appétit writer and editor Ali Francis. She says it’s the result of pent-up demand among consumers and labor shortages.
“[During] the pandemic, a lot of restaurants had to rely on reservations to know how to staff, how long to remain open, and all of those things that would make running a restaurant during a global pandemic viable. And it's a COVID-era hangover that restaurants are still really struggling to staff up,” Francis tells KCRW.
She adds that scoring reservations to the hottest spots can be considered a status symbol.
“Going to a very cool restaurant, being seen there, taking photos there has become a little bit like trying to score that impossible ‘Hamilton’ ticket in like 2015. So it's just a fun thing.”
Some diners are resorting to extravagant means to secure a reservation. Francis learned of one businessman who gave a restaurateur $90,000, Rolex watches, Gucci loafers, and other gifts to reserve a table all summer long.
Some third-party companies, such as Front of House, offer digital subscriptions that provide priority access to restaurants. Francis says less competitive restaurant reservations can cost about $300 for a year, while some of the buzziest can cost $1,000 annually. She notes that doesn’t include the cost of food.
Everyday people are also trying to make reservations in blocks, then selling them online.
“There's always been this clamoring to get into restaurants, and I think that's not going anywhere ever. But it's just time will tell whether all of these side hustles that people are doing to get into restaurants and to access reservations will continue on,” she says.