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Is the future of New York restaurants reservations-only?

A move toward more reservations has the potential to change dining out as we know it.

Emma Orlow
Written by
Emma Orlow

The days of walking down the street, running into a friend and then serendipitously deciding to wander into a restaurant to grab a bite could be a thing of the past. A greater emphasis on reservations-only policies is being discussed when it comes to planning how the city will look and function (when reopening for a full dine-in experience is safely on the table.) 

Some experts suggest that restaurants, when they return to full-service, operate with reservations in order to prevent crowding from people waiting to be seated. In an email sent out by the James Beard Foundation providing resources for reopening, the architecture and design firm CORE laid out some speculative ideas for reconfiguring spaces to fit the needs of the current health crisis, even when reopening for dine-in. Page nine reads, "Leverage tech to limit interaction. Take reservations only. Communicate customer expectations in advance, with designated arrival times. Establish a host as a gatekeeper. Consider allowing customers to place orders in advance of arrival." 

The suggestion of a move toward reservations-only may be an opportunity to mitigate lines or overcrowding in dining rooms, but it also has the potential to shift the experience of dining out as we know it.

Stumbling into a restaurant on a whim would largely be a thing of the past. It would require more work from the customer. Rather than discovering a new spot on a walk around the neighborhood, the diner would need to be familiar with the restaurant in advance to be able to book a table, which could mean that smaller, family-owned restaurants who lack the ability to pay for marketing services to reach new customers might continue to face an uneven playing field. But operating at reduced capacity means less potential for profit; for a restaurant's perspective, that kind of commitment via reservation could be essential. 

In fact, CORE further suggests that restaurants might be well-suited to take orders in advance as well. Both measures would allow the restaurant to plan its seating arrangements ahead of time as well as figure out the amount of food needed to be prepare for the day. 

Like many technology-driven businesses helping restaurants operate, the reservations platform Resy has been affected by the pandemic. But they may have an opportunity to profit from the future of the industry. 

In an email sent out to partners (and provided to Time Out New York by a representative for the company), Resy’s CEO Ben Leventhal laid out several new initiatives in the works. Last week, the team launched the "Mobile Waitlist," which allows guests to add their names to a waitlist via their mobile devices (Yelp has a similar waitlist function.) “This feature will be an important lever for crowd control, pacing and delivery of safe hospitality,” wrote Leventhal. There is also the option for restaurants to limit their capacity, and they will be alerted as they approach the number of desired guests. Restaurants can also set an "open date alert," which will let diners know about their reopening plans. Resy also promises to provide "100% relief" to fees incurred with them for both new sign-ups and current members alike through the remainder of 2020.

"Since we announced on April 30 that Resy would be available to restaurants at no cost through the end of 2020, restaurants that did not take reservations previously have come forward with interest in using Resy—both as a means to operate more safely and at limited capacity, and for more visibility," Leventhal shared with Time Out New York, declining to share the names of specific restaurants. "Additionally, restaurants that were using ResyOS for table management, but did not take reservations, have expressed interest in being guest-facing, and taking reservations. This means they will be visible in the Resy app and" We will update this post will more information regarding restaurants interested in pivoting to a reservation-only method.

New Yorkers know that securing reservations can sometimes be a brutal undertaking. Popular restaurants like Missy Robbins’ Misi and Lilia are near-impossible to land tables at, even when you plan ahead and are prepared to pounce on new reservations that open up 30 days in advance. It would also change the experience for diners looking to experience restaurants like Via Carota and Roberta’s, which have been known, in part, for their resistance to taking reservations. (But at least hour-long waits may also become a thing of the past.)

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