While there have been high-status, celebrity-filled restaurants, there have been people asking to walk in, working with contacts, making phone calls, greasing their palms. Lately, though, it can seem like every restaurant in New York is this type of restaurant.
In the pandemic era – with reduced hours in many cases, and a public eager to eat out once again – the competition for tables has reached a frenzied pitch on electronic booking platforms.
“Without embellishing too much, in five seconds, basically every reservation is taken,” said Steve Saed, who started #FreeRezy, a free e-forum where people could exchange reservations with each other. “It’s like winning the lottery to eat at these places,” he added.
But a new breed of tactics has emerged to help would-be diners skip the line, including latter-day concierge services, non-fungible tokens granting holders special privileges, members-only credit card benefits and private “club restaurants.” What they all have in common is that they will cost you.
“However, many years ago, the host or hostess was handed $20 and the line was skipped,” said Alex Lee, Resy’s general manager and vice president of American Express Dining. He leads the companies’ Global Dining Network, a program that gives a select group of American Express members (American Express owns Resy) access to certain restaurant benefits through the reservation platform.
The program, he suggested, is just the natural evolution of that sneaky $20. For an annual credit card fee of hundreds or sometimes thousands of dollars, Global Dining Access members can get priority reservations at hot restaurants across the United States. “The first thing customers want is access, right?” Lee said.
But at certain members-only restaurants, a reservation alone is not enough.
Haiku, a private sushi restaurant in Miami, does a slightly different calculation. The restaurant accepts members by invitation only, for an annual fee, and asks them to commit to at least four reservations for a 10- to 12-course kaiseki-inspired omakase menu each year. The restaurant declined to discuss the application process or the price.
Major Food Group partner Jeff Zalaznick was a little more open about plans for the New York debut of ZZ’s Club, which will feature a members-only Carbone. Like the first ZZ’s in Miami, which offered members access to a Japanese restaurant, sushi bar, bar and lounge, and cigar terrace, ZZ’s Club New York will bring the Major Food Group experience to the financial elite and social (Like Haiku, Major Food Group would not disclose the fee or application process.)
But considering that the original Carbone, which recently lost its Michelin star — It’s already impossible to get into, is it really necessary to have an even more exclusive version just 2 miles away?
“One of the great things about being a private members club is the fact that you can really tailor everything about the food and drinks to your customers to an even higher level than you can, obviously, when you’re just a public restaurant .” Zalaznick said.
That means knowing what members want and exactly how they want it: How do they get their steak? Do they prefer still or sparkling water? What is its standing order and with what modifications?
Diners can have all of these things at London import Casa Cruz on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, but for a stratospheric price. The top-floor dining room is reserved for the 99 members of the restaurant’s “partner investment group,” who have paid between $250,000 and $500,000 to join.
“I think there’s a demand for healing,” said Noah Tepperberg, co-CEO of Tao Group Hospitality, which is opening a private club in Chicago’s River North neighborhood next year in partnership with the restaurants Lettuce Entertain You.
In the grand tradition of private clubs, from New York City’s Union Club to San Francisco’s Bohemian Club to the recently rebranded “Quin House in Boston,” these exclusive club restaurants require not only cash, but status
“Restaurants started as places to show off status,” said Andrew Haley, associate professor of history at the University of Southern Mississippi. This was usually done in public, where discerning diners could be seen demonstrating their discernment.
The members-only clubstaurant, on the other hand, confers a different kind of status, suggested Megan Elias, director of Boston University’s gastronomy program: “You can be a connoisseur among a very small number of connoisseurs.”
Saed said he is not surprised that access is being monetized.
“Part of it is tracking the types of people who are renting in New York now,” he said. “With rents going up $4,000 to $5,000, I think the proportion of people living here who have discretionary income to spend is a little bit higher here.”
Yet another restaurants — the public kind — are leaning toward patronage-style programs, aimed at giving certain customers privileged access while remaining open to the rest of us.
Under normal circumstances, it can take weeks or months to get into Dame, a West Village fish and chip sensation. But there’s an alternative solution: Front of House, a platform designed to help restaurants sell “digital collectibles,” also known as NFTs, that grant holders special access.
Instead of standing in line at 4:30pm on a Monday, which is the day Dame brings diners in, a loyal diner could pay $1,000, allowing them, with a minimum of 24 hours’ notice, to reserve a table . once a week until the end of 2022. (Twenty such tokens have been created; 11 have been sold so far).
Stephanie Dumanian, cosmetic dentist in Manhattan and fan of the restaurant, was trying unsuccessfully to make a reservation for her husband’s birthday when she found Front of House. He bought a tab in July and has been there three times since then. “It’s been great,” he said. “I feel like I’m supporting a local business.”
Front of House co-founder Colin Camac said the platform is simply accelerating intimacy.
“I think one of the best things in the world is going to a place like Cheers, where everybody knows your name, where they know what you like, where your martini is sitting there as soon as you walk in,” Camac said. who is also regional director of Resy. “It’s an easier way to be a part of that community if you don’t have the time to really invest in it.” In other words, anyone can be a regular, for a price.
“It’s kind of a trade secret in the concierge space that you have to build relationships, and spend a lot of time doing that, in order to deliver those very hard-to-get reservations,” said Peter Adams, founder of Table Concierge .
His startup is for people with money but not time, and a wannabe diner doesn’t have to be a regular to be treated like one. “You could do it on your own,” he said, but it simplifies the process “because you don’t have to wake up at 8 a.m. or book at midnight.”
For a price, usually $50 per reservation per person, but depending on the difficulty, Adams works his connections to open doors that seem closed to the rest of us. (White glove service means you will go to a restaurant in person to negotiate on behalf of a customer.)
With a week or so of notice, he puts his success rate at 90%. Do you want Lilia? Lilia will take you, no matter what Resy says. “We can take you anywhere but Rao’s,” he said of the exclusive Italian restaurant in East Harlem.
Although he added, “But if you want to give me $10,000, I can find a way to get you into Rao’s.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
📣 For more lifestyle news, follow us Instagram | Twitter | Facebook and don’t miss the latest news!