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 want special treatment
This service is more about special treatment than last-minute tables, but it works well for both. For a monthly fee, I Know The Chef provides coveted reservations at popular restaurants and functions like a concierge service for residents of New York City, Miami, and Chicago (Las Vegas will launch this May). Guests who book through the app or desktop site receive special treatment, such as complimentary hors d’oeuvres or a personal greeting from the chef, and have their pick of insider tables often reserved for friends and family that are hidden from public sites like OpenTable.