4.15.2014: Reservations / Digital Ordering

This week: thoughts on how technology shapes how, when, and how fast we get the food we want


The Business of Buying Reservations

There’s a new startup in town [San Francisco], and this one’s going to be interesting. Table8, launched today, offers people relatively last-minute reservations for popular tables at extremely popular San Francisco restaurants — they type that book up weeks in advance. The catch: you have to pay for your reservation. ($20 for two people; $25 for four.)

Table8 works directly with a set group of restaurants who set aside tables specifically for the service, and the restaurants get a cut of the revenue, making this more than just a creative technical solution to snag reservations. The fact that this even exists implies that the reservation itself is an entity worth charging for — the honor of getting in the door is now an act that can be bought and sold.

This startup, especially since it’s launching in contentiously-tech-savvy San Francisco, is sure to come under some serious scrutiny. I don’t care as much about that. Instead, I’m interested in what this says about the way we plan and enjoy meals. In Paris, for example, many restaurants, not just the super popular restaurants, are booked solid six weeks in advance. Here, we value being able to get what we want when we want it, and this latest idea is a manifestation of that. Planning ahead can get you somewhere; planning last minute is now completely possible… for the right price.

Table8 has plans to expand beyond San Francisco soon, so this is certainly not the last we’ll hear about the operation. I have a lot of questions about this one, (What happens when this becomes more popular and widely-used? Economics says the price to reserve goes up… right?) but because this appears to be a new model in the restaurant space, I’m excited to sit back and watch to see what happens.


Can You Scalp a Restaurant Reservation?

Oh hey! Speaking of the restaurant reservation as a commodity that can be purchased, here’s a thought-provoking Twitter conversation between restaurateur and journalist. (Click through to read it; it’s worth it.) Basically, William Tigertt of Freemans in New York calls out a site named “Killer Rezzys” that uses technology to snag choice reservations, then sells them for a profit. He says he plans to combat the problem by checking IDs for the reservation times in question. Notable award-winning journalist Francis Lam responds, defending the “pass-along” reservation, that is, kicking your reso to a friend when you can’t make it.

The point here is similar to that above: reservations have now become a quantity worth buying and selling. You can either work with the restaurant or you can work against them, effectively gaming the system to get a choice table. I’m not sure what I think about this concept generally; worth watching to get a sense of how it rights itself. (This is certainly worth a deeper dive. More soon.)

illustration by April V. Walters
illustration by April V. Walters


Food Delivery: So Hot Right Now

Have we reached peak food delivery startup? I’ve written those words a few times, but each time the market feels oversaturated, more news emerges about a new company, more funding, or new ideas in the space. Last week was no different, with news of four different delivery startups receiving a whole lot of funding to expand operations. KitchensurfingMuncherySpoonRocket and Sprig all made funding announcements. While each of these companies are slightly different, they all, on some level, deliver good food to the consumer via a technical method. Call it what you want: the “Uber-ification” of the food delivery market; creative problem-solving; creating new and involved ways of not having to talk to anyone on the phone.

A few days before these big announcements, a San Francisco Magazine editor penned a quick column aboutGoldbelly, a “food delivery startup that lives at the intersection of consumer desire and laziness.” Basically, you can order classic dishes from all around the country and essentially “import” them to yourself — Kansas City barbecue, a Philadelphia cheesesteak, a Momofuku birthday cake. Gone is the idea of the “food pilgrimage,” she argues. What horrors will ensue if someone really, really wants to fly a cake across the country? (At $100 per delivered cake, you gotta really want it.) These sentiments require deeper dives, but I’m inclined to wonder what the big fuss is all about.

To round out last week’s food delivery mania: Amazon’s Jeff Bezos says that delivery drones are real, and will soon deliver Amazon Fresh orders to tech-savvy consumers across the country.


A NYC App Gives You Free Coffee

First came loyalty punch cards, then came their digital ilk; new ways of rewarding repeat customers for loyalty at certain establishments. Now, a new app in New York takes that model and twists it a bit. CUPS is more subscription-based than loyalty, but takes direct aim at large coffee chains by offering coffee at 40 different New York locations for a flat monthly rate. ($45 for drip and pour-over; $85 for espresso beverages.) I like this — it’s a step toward leveling the playing field between gigantic coffee conglomerates and smaller operations that may not have the time, money or bandwidth to support these types of programs that keep happy customers coming back.


Ferran Adria Joins Twitter

This morning, one of the world’s greatest chefs got a warm Twitter welcome (the kind usually reserved for major celebrities — Robert Downey, Jr. the most recent.) Ferran Adria joined Twitter with four tweets — in different languages — proclaiming the start of his digital career. The included photo is an obvious nod toBullipedia, the huge, all-encompassing culinary wiki announced last year.

Most exciting (to this restaurant nerd, at least) is the reception Adria has received — 18,000 followers and rising. This serves as testament to two things: 1. relevance and celebrity in today’s food world includes maintaining a digital presence; and 2. the people love it. Great stuff.


  • How tipping has changed in the digital era (from March) — Bon Appetit
  • The amazing Lucy Peach put all its Beard-nominated stories on Medium. Rad. — Medium
  • Hack // Dining is coming to New York this June. This rocks. Let’s all go. — Food+Tech Connect
  • New York health inspectors may soon use Glass to record restaurant visits — GrubStreet

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