Websites and mobile apps have lifted the curtain on restaurant reservations, rewarding regular diners and advance planners. But if you’re winging it, there’s a new round of apps that help procrastinators find coveted tables at the last minute.
“It’s a jungle out there,” says Salvatore Rizzo, who owns De Gustibus Cooking School in Manhattan and has spent three decades in the food industry, most recently as director of house events for the James Beard Foundation. “Especially if you’re in a city, apps are your second best bet after facial recognition.”
The fact is, many of the old school strategies don’t work anymore. You can try calling ahead, but restaurants often lack enough staffing to tend to the phones during a rush and you'll probably have to show up before being promised a spot. And slipping the maitre d’ a $20 is a dated practice that’s widely considered poor taste, Rizzo says. If you don’t have the time or dedication to become a regular, your smartphone may be your fastest ticket in.
Here are six new apps and a Twitter feed that will make spontaneous dining less stressful.
If you use OpenTable
When people cancel reservations at the last minute, HotTables texts would be diners that the coveted table has opened up. Launched by OpenTable, it functions like a real-time wait-list that's basically a more official RezHound (a free desktop or mobile service that scans OpenTable for 11th hour reservations). The app is still in its pilot program, so interested users can request an invitation here. There is a charge of $1 per seated diner and you must be a VIP OpenTable user, which requires making at least 12 reservations each year.