And Now, the Uber of Restaurant Reservations

How diners get access to plates like this charcuterie board at Lucia could be changing in the future.
How diners get access to plates like this charcuterie board at Lucia could be changing in the future.
Lori Bandi

Since Lucia first opened, the Oak Cliff Italian restaurant has been honing its reputation as Dallas' toughest reservation. Diners who want the opportunity to twirl a forkful of David Uygur's cacio e pepe have to call the restaurant a month in advance to book a table. Prime slots are consistently gobbled up fast, and if you wait too long your hot Friday night date might become a tepid Tuesday reservation at 5:45 -- dating, grandparents-style.

But according to The New York Times, Lucia is actually being charitable with its monthly old-school telephone reservation system. Urged by apps like Uber, which raise and lower prices dynamically based on customer demand, restaurants in New York City and San Francisco have begun tapping ways to turn all of that pent up demand into cash money. Now, if you want a previously impossible reservation at Peter Luger Steakhouse, Killer Rezzy, an online booking service based in New York, is all too happy to charge you $25 to make your dining dreams a reality.

It's not hard to imagine that reservation charge climbing for traditionally busy occasions like Valentine's Day or New Years Eve or Mothers Day. Just look at Uber prices on the same days.

Aside from booking fees, there are other ways restaurant owners have found to monetize excess demand for tables. Grant Achatz's Next in Chicago sells non-refundable tickets to every meal, preventing pensive diners from canceling reservations. Others charge a fee to make a reservation, then credit the fee back to the final bill, incentivizing diners to show up when they say they're going to.

It's the no-shows that push these restaurants to protect their profits as their real estate and food costs continue to climb. According to the Times, no-shows make up 5 to 10 percent of all reservations, and those tables stay empty unless other diners walk in to take them. By making sure customers make good on their reservations, restaurateurs can protect their bottom line.

As these practices evolve, it's not a stretch to envision a smart phone app that displays open reservations (and fees) within proximity of a diner. Or how about an app that lets diners bid on last-second open reservations? Those tables at Lucia could cost you a pretty penny, you may be able to get a deal if your dining time is flexible.

Personally, I'm just sad my selfish practice of booking two restaurants for the same time, and then choosing the one that suits my mood that evening, might no longer be financially prudent. Don't judge: I always call and cancel the other reservation as soon as I can. You do too, right?

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