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Political Foodie: Reservation Platforms & Sca

By Andrew Rigie, NYC Hospitality Alliance

June 14, 2014

There has been quite a bit of press about online restaurant reservation platforms. So it’s no surprise that members of the NYC Hospitality Alliance are calling us to share their opinions and thoughts on this topic.

There are websites like OpenTable and SeatMe that have official agreements with restaurants, which allow customers to book reservations directly through their site. However, there is a growing popularity of websites that book “hard to get” reservations and sell them to eager customers without the restaurant’s consent.  Essentially, what’s going on is that these websites are scalping restaurant reservations.

Many restaurateurs dislike these “scalping” websites for a variety of reasons. First off, they put an unwanted third party between the restaurant and their guests, which may dilute the overall dining experience and relationship that restaurants work hard to build with their guests. Additionally, scalped reservations also cause operational and financial hardships for restaurants if there is a late, no-show, or last minute cancellation of a scalped reservation.

It’s not immediately clear whether there is anything unlawful about the practice of “scalping” restaurant reservations.  However, The Alliance intends to bring this matter to the attention of the appropriate authorities and report back to our members.

The combination of technology and the demand for restaurant reservations is forcing the marketplace to evolve.  If you didn’t watch, Eater recently did a quick video about the crowded online reservation landscape. Unsurprisingly, websites like Zurvu and Resy have emerged that allow customers to book “hard to get” reservations via official relationships with restaurants. Part of the idea here is that people willing to pay a premium for difficult or last minute reservations are able to, but in a way that is controlled by the restaurant and for which they receive part of the reservation fee. Then there is also the concept of eliminating the classic restaurant reservation system all together and selling tickets instead – similar to how people buy tickets to concert and sporting events. The ticket system has been a successful method for restaurants Next, Alinea, etc in Chicago, and the process and benefits are articulated well by them on their website.  And of course, there is also the trend of popular restaurants that do not even accept reservations.

It will be interesting to see how the restaurant reservation market and the future of reservations will evolve. Perhaps the way people are used to booking reservations and the way restaurants manage them will be completely flipped on its head in the upcoming years.

However, until then, reservation scalping will continue to be a problem for many restaurants in NYC. In the meantime, if reservations for your restaurant are being scalped and you wish for it to stop, try contacting the website directly and request that your restaurant’s reservations are removed.

Unfortunately, if the website doesn’t honor your request, the restaurateur doesn’t have much recourse at this time. For now though, you may want to add a disclaimer to the reservation section of your website stating that scalped reservations from unauthorized third parties may not be honored. You may also consider contacting other restaurants listed on the websites where your business appears to share tips and ideas directly about how to handle scalping.

The NYC Hospitality Alliance encourages the websites selling unauthorized reservations to act in good faith, support the wishes of our local restaurateurs and stop this practice if requested.

What are the pros and cons of how your restaurant currently manages reservations and how can it be improved? Do you have an effective strategy to mitigate scalping? We want to hear from you! Share your comments and experiences here on our blog or email your thoughts to arigie@theNYCalliance.org.

 Andrew Rigie | Executive Director | NYC Hospitality Alliance Andrew Rigie is the Executive Director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance. He serves on multiple committees relating to hospitality, he is a vocal industry advocate and recognized commentator for local, national and international media inquiries relating to New York City’s hospitality industry.


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