After moving our daughter into her college apartment last Saturday, we offered to take a group of her friends out to a local restaurant to celebrate the beginning of the school year. The place we chose did not allow for table reservations but did offer call-ahead seating. Thus did our party of ten arrive during the busy dinner hour and was seated less than ten minutes later. It’s fair to say this call-ahead experience was entirely pleasing to the palate.
Call-ahead seating is an interesting concept to me. It’s somewhere between a full-on reservation and simply showing up for dinner. The restaurant puts you on a list when you call ahead, and then you’re given the next available table after you arrive. In essence, call-ahead mitigates the restaurant’s risk of the no-show reservation.
Call-ahead feels entirely dated if you use OpenTable, of course With OT you’re limited to the restaurants supported by the app, but you’re also given the convenience of choosing cuisine, location, menu, and time; right up to the moment you walk through the door. OT’s website boasts “seating more than 20 million diners per month… across more than 38,000 restaurants”. Clearly the new-age approach to restaurant reservations has arrived.
But is OpenTable also dated? With a little research I was amazed to discover several other companies changing our approach to dining out. Consider the following:
NoWait allows you to add yourself to the wait list of a restaurant that doesn’t take reservations. NoWait is like having someone stand in line for you, with the convenience of knowing when that person gets to the front of the line. Hence you can shop or have a drink nearby instead enduring the crowding and impatience of the restaurant’s waiting area.
Rezhound and TableSweep are boosters for OpenTable. They scan OT for newly-released (cancelled) reservations, then notify you by text or email with what they find. You have to jump over to OT to actually book the reservation (be quick!), but it’s a great concept if you’re in the habit of waiting for last-minute seats at popular restaurants.
Table8 is designed for the more upscale dining experience. Table8’s restaurants set aside a fixed number of peak-time tables every night. You can reserve any available table at a Table8’s restaurant for free, or reserve one of the “set-aside” tables for a fee if there are no other tables. Again, last-minute seats at popular restaurants, as long as you’re willing to pay a little extra.
Settle allows you to book a table, pre-order your food, and pay for your meal on your phone. I’m not a fan of Settle’s time-saving tactics. I think the moments perusing and discussing the menu is part of the fun of dining out, not to mention the brief relationship with your waiter. If saving time is your objective, just get your food to-go.
Shout borders on the absurd. Shout is the ticket-scalper’s approach to restaurant reservations. For a fee negotiated with the “seller”, you the “buyer” can purchase a hard-to-get restaurant reservation, or pay the seller to wait at a given restaurant until your name is called. Really? Is the restaurant that good and your time that important?
To end on a humorous or horrifying note (take your pick), Happy is marketed as the do-it-yourself happy-hour app. Walk into a bar, cue the Happy app, and a timer starts a 60-minute countdown: to enjoy whatever 2-for-1’s or other specials the bar has to offer. So now you can get extra drinks any time of day. Just remember, you only have an hour. On your marks… get set… DRINK!