A barrage of new restaurant booking services are making it easier than ever to score a top table at Chicago restaurants—if you know how and when to deploy them, that is. Whether you’re willing to drop a few bucks for a prime-time reservation at a buzzy new restaurant, want to pick out your exact table at a fine dining restaurant or get a last-minute table at a discount, you can find an app for that.
I Know the Chef
This website and iOS app (an Android version is in the works) aims to deliver prime-time reservations with a side of VIP treatment. Before booking, users must purchase one of four membership plans (from $19.99 for a 10-day trial to $500 for a full year). Users then request reservations at spots like Table Fifty-Two and Osteria Langhe and simply await confirmation. Chicago partner restaurants currently number around 30, though members can also request bookings outside of this roster. In addition to high-demand tables, the service also affords various niceties—like access to private events—doled out in accordance with one’s membership level.
The bottom line: A good choice for those who want peak-time tables and insider treatment—and are willing to pay for them.
To use this sleek Android and iOS app, begin by selecting your desired dining date, time and party size. Then, choose one or more options from a list of over 20 restaurants (including spots like Lula Cafe, Brindille and Sepia) and await confirmation. When one request is confirmed, the rest are automatically cancelled and if your choices are unavailable, the app may suggest alternate times or seating options. For high-demand tables, you may be given the option to bid on reservations by suggesting a percentage you’d be willing to pay on top of your bill. Perhaps the app’s handiest feature is its integrated payment capability: At the end of your meal, your bill (including tip and a $5 reservation fee) is automatically charged to an on-file credit card, so there’s no need to reach for your wallet.
The bottom line: Best suited to flexible diners who appreciate the convenience of integrated payment.
This no-frills website works by repeatedly scanning OpenTable in search of newly released reservations for your desired restaurant and dining date/time. Should a table turn up, you’ll be notified by phone or email; you must then make haste to OpenTable and reserve before someone else snags the spot. There’s no guarantee that you’ll score a reservation—but because the service is free, there’s little risk involved, either. And since the site piggybacks on OpenTable, you can search for a table at any restaurant in the latter’s behemoth reservation network.
The bottom line: A winner for those who want access to fee-free reservations at a wide range of restaurants—but are happy to stay in and order a pizza if that table doesn’t come through.
This newcomer’s partner restaurants (14 at present, including Bohemian House, Momotaro and Boka) set aside a fixed number of peak-time tables each night. Via its website or app (for iOS and Android), users can search for availability anywhere between a couple of weeks to a few hours before the desired reservation. If a restaurant has general availability, reservations are free; if it’s otherwise fully booked, users can reserve one of the tables set aside for Table8 for a variable fee (generally around $20). N.B.: This fee covers the reservation only, and will not be deducted from your final bill.
The bottom line: Worth it for diners who don’t mind spending a bit extra for a guaranteed peak-time reservation at some of Chicago’s most stylish restaurants.
Early each morning, this booking app (for iOS and Android) and website is updated with available, same-day-only reservations at its lineup of over 40 partner restaurants, including Mercadito, Kinmont and Tippling Hall. As you might expect, given the system’s last-minute aspect, available reservations are often (but certainly not always) limited to off-peak times—but in exchange for a $5 booking fee, TableSAVVY sweetens the deal by throwing in a 30% discount on your meal (excluding alcohol).
The bottom line: A great option for savings-savvy, last-minute bookers who don’t mind eating at an off-peak time.
If you’ve spent an evening at Next, Alinea or the Aviary, chances are you’re already familiar with the nuts and bolts of this still-in-development ticketing system, a legacy version of which has been powering reservations at those spots since 2011, 2012 and 2013, respectively. Dreamed up by Next et al. co-owner Nick Kokonas to address such endemic issues as no-shows, long wait times and food waste, the system (accessed via individual restaurants’ websites) trades traditional reservations for all-in-one tickets that cover your table as well as your meal, optional beverage pairings and gratuity. What’s more, tickets are dynamically priced to reflect demand. Tock proper is slated to launch nationally this summer; until then, here in Chicago you can use the legacy version to book tickets at the aforementioned spots, as well as Elizabeth and Intro.
The bottom line: We’ll have to wait till Tock fully launches to find out how it suits a la carte spots; in the meantime, its dynamic pricing model can make prix-fixe meals at some of Chicago’s most celebrated restaurants more accessible.
Launched in January, this website aims to pair diners with week-of, peak-time reservations at a roster of 13 restaurants that ranges from neighborhood spots like Table, Donkey and Stick to fine-dining destinations like Sixteen. The week’s available reservations are posted at 7pm each Monday; users secure a table by paying a booking fee of $2.50 per person plus a minimum spend per person. (This latter amount varies widely; Table, Donkey and Stick’s minimum, for instance, is $60 per person, while Sixteen’s is $350.) The minimum spend is applied to the diners’ bill and any remaining balance is usually refunded by the restaurant in the form of a gift card. A unique feature is the ability to view a photo of your table prior to booking.
Bottom line: The table view feature makes this a good choice for diners who like to be in control of their seating; as minimum spend refunds are issued in the form of a gift card, users might want to consider whether they’re likely to return to a restaurant before reserving.