Popular restaurants create a conundrum for diners: How do you get a table at the hottest place in town on super-short notice?
ReservationHop entered the market late last week with what it thought was a killer solution: the company would make reservations at popular spots, and then sell them online to people who wanted them.
But over the weekend, after a swift and negative reaction, the company switched plans: it’s now a marketplace for people to sell their restaurant reservations to other foodies. People with reservations in San Francisco can get in touch with ReservationHop to sell their spot for whatever price they choose. Once a user pays for the reservation, they get the name that will get them in the door.
That’s a quick change for the startup, which launched on July 3. The site’s original tag line was, “We make reservations at the hottest restaurants in advance so you don’t have to.”
TechCrunch’s Josh Constine had some choice words for ReservationHop, lumping it in with apps like Monkey Parking, which allows people to auction off the parking space they’re occupying on San Francisco’s streets.
“They’re emblematic of a compassionless new wave of self-serving startups that exploit small businesses and public infrastructure to make a buck and aid the wealthy,” he wrote. “Let’s call these parasites #JerkTech. It’s one thing to outcompete a big, stagnant company with new technology. It’s another to screw over the little guys just because you can sell what’s usually free.”
The reaction on Twitter was similarly swift:
i wonder if startups will eventually start squatting in emergency rooms and let people pay to get to the front of the line.
— Selena Larson (@selenalarson) July 3, 2014
This is irresponsible and sleazy and exactly what people hate about startups sucking the life out of San Francisco https://t.co/pqz572FWA9
— mat (@mat) July 3, 2014
Following all the backlash, ReservationHop founder Brian Mayer told TechCrunch that he was “taken aback by the level of hostility, especially for a product that addresses San Francisco’s love of both food and instant gratification, which I share.”
ReservationHop’s “How it Works” page seeks to downplay the impact on restaurants. “If a reservation is not claimed 4 hours before the alotted time, we personally call and cancel the reservation as a service to the restaurant, to prevent no-shows.”
There are several companies trying to solve the problem of matching people who want last-minute seats with tables from patrons who flake out at the last minute. Table8, another SF-based startup that received funding from Concur, allows restaurant managers to sell last-minute reservations that have been kept in reserve.
Nick Kokonas, the owner of Alinea, Alinea Next and The Aviary in Chicago, has taken to selling tickets for those three locations, which has driven down the number of no-shows and short-sat tables considerably. In a blog post last month, he said that he’s working with restaurants around the world to implement Alinea’s system elsewhere.
As for ReservationHop, it doesn’t seem to be taking off. The selection of reservations available is fairly sparse at the moment. Mayer said that he was open to working with restaurants to use ReservationHop as an official part of their reservation process, though it’s not clear whether restaurateurs would want to do business with a company that planned to make money from selling something most establishments give away for free.