Back in May, the New York food world had quite the debate over the idea of paying for reservations at prime dinner times. The spark for this conversation was Resy, an app launched by Gary Vaynerchuk and Ben Leventhal (Leventhal is also the co-founder of Eater). Resy offered last minute reservations at hard-to-book restaurants — for a fee.
Now a similar app has launched in Los Angeles. Table8, which originally launched in San Francisco, is now offering prime time tables at L.A. restaurants, often (but not always) for a fee.
Unlike New York, there are very few restaurants in Los Angeles that are impossible to get into, and those that are (such as Trois Mec and Maude) already have their own systems in place. But Table8 has done a fairly good job of finding quality restaurants that are hard to book, at least at prime times. Currently, the site offers reservations at Republique, A.O.C., Alma, Crossroads and eight other high profile places.
So what does Table8 offer that Open Table doesn't? For the most part, it offers tables at prime dining times — 7 to 8:30 p.m. — that aren't available on Open Table. For instance, when I looked for a day-of reservation at Republique, Open Table offered me a table for two at 6, 6:15 or 9:15. Table8 offered me a table at 8. The catch? That 8 p.m. reservation would cost me $20. If I wanted a table for four people, the price went up to $25, though I could choose from a 7:30 or 8 p.m. reservation. On Open Table, the only reservation for four people was at 9:30 p.m.
This seemed consistent with all the restaurants on Table8: Where Open Table often had slots available, they were never at prime dining times. And for some seatings, there was no charge at all for the privilege of dining at 7 p.m. — Melisse, for example, has tables at 6:30 and before and 8 p.m. and after on Open Table, but Table8 would allow you to dine at 7 or 7:30 p.m. for no charge.
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For the most part, though, you're going to pay for the convenience of dining at prime time at one of these spots. Which brings up the question of value and fairness. Is this any different than slipping the maître d' a $20? Or allowing non-HOV cars into the Fast Track lane for a fee? Is it an unfair velvet rope, or just a reality of capitalism's rule of supply and demand?
Even apps like Table8 have their limitations. L.A.'s one truly impossible reservation right now is Bestia, and I can see the value in snagging an 8 p.m. reservation there, even for a fee. Table8 lists Bestia as one of the restaurants to which it offers access, but alas, it shows a "No tables available" message before you even try to search for a date and time. Oh well, you can still get a reservation at Bestia on Open Table. Five weeks from now. At 5 p.m.