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Foodies are spending thousands bidding on trendy restaurant reservations in New York City

A new report has shed light on the online marketplace of restaurant reservations in New York City, where resellers are making nearly $1,000 per reservation sold

Meredith Clark
New York
Wednesday 24 April 2024 20:07 BST
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People are making a fortune by reselling their reservations to New York City’s hottest restaurants to the highest bidder, according to a new report from The New Yorker.

It’s no secret that the Big Apple is full of some of the best dining establishments in the world, from the popular Italian-American eatery Carbone to the new Fort Greene spot Sailor, helmed by chef April Bloomfield. With hundreds of thousands of cuisines to choose from, dining out has become one of the best ways to fully experience everything the city has to offer.

But what happens when landing a reservation at some of New York’s most popular restaurants becomes a total bidding war, where real people compete with automated bots and resellers, paying nearly $1,000 for a two-person table at 4 Charles Prime Rib?

In a new report from The New Yorker, titled “Why You Can’t Get a Restaurant Reservation,” table scalpers spoke to the outlet about the online marketplace of reservation reselling, made easy with reservation systems such as OpenTable, Resy, and Appointment Trader.

Appointment Trader is an online marketplace founded by Jonas Frey in 2021, where people can buy and sell reservations. The website allows users with existing reservations to sell them on a virtual marketplace. New users can create an Appointment Trader account with their email address, while sellers earn “Traderpoints” and “medals” that allow them to upload more reservations. According to a 2023 report from the New York Times, Appointment Trader takes a cut of about 20 to 30 per cent from each reservation’s sale price. Last year, Appointment Trader earned more than $6m in reservation sales.

Alex Eisler, a sophomore at Brown University, explained to The New Yorker that he regularly uses fake phone numbers and email addresses to make reservations. He’s even opened several Resy accounts under female names. On Appointment Trader, Eisler sold a lunch table at Maison Close, a French restaurant in Manhattan’s Soho neighbourhood, for $855. He also booked a reservation at Carbone, later reselling his table on Appointment Trader for $1,050. In total, he made a whopping $70,000 last year simply from reselling his reservations.

Meanwhile, another reseller on Appointment Trader made $80,000 by reselling reservations he had booked in between watching TV and working as a concierge at a hotel.

Nicky DiMaggio, who spoke to The New Yorker, recalled how he sold a reservation at 4 Charles to Hailey Bieber and her friends last February. While he didn’t disclose how much the Rhode Beauty founder paid for the reservation, it was noted that he charges between $500 and $1,000 per booking. DiMaggio, whose full-time job is owning a sanitation business, has since developed a client list full of NBA players, bankers, and actors like Megan Fox. Last year, he booked more than one thousand reservations at New York City’s trendiest restaurants.

Then there’s the bots, or automated computers, which easily snag open reservations by constantly refreshing reservation apps. Foodies can also go the usual route of landing a table at their favourite restaurants: calling the establishment, emailing about reservations, sliding in the restaurant’s Instagram DM’s, making an in-person reservation, or going directly to the restaurant’s website.

However, that’s not very easy when some businesses admit to favouring certain customers based on their credit card partners. Diners with certain American Express cards are reportedly given an advantage on Resy, which was acquired by American Express in 2019.

“Chase has tables, Amex has tables,” said Resy co-founder Ben Levanthal, later adding: “It’s about saying yes to the person who’s going to spend the most money over the long haul.”

Most recently, a group of friends pranked thousands of foodies when they opened a fake steakhouse in New York City. The prank originated in 2021, when Mehran Jalali and his roommates had bi-weekly steak dinners that he would cook in his Upper East Side apartment. As a joke, his roommates made a Google page where they left positive reviews. However, strangers eventually found the reviews and assumed the reviews were real.

The roommates then created a website for the fake steakhouse, and had a waitlist with nearly 3,000 names on it by 2022. Last September, the friends attempted to make the pretend restaurant a reality when they rented an event space in the East Village and obtained a one-day liquor license and food-handling permits. Then, they invited the thousands of people who had put their names on the reservation waitlist.

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