$365 to Book a Table for 2 in New York? A New Law Could Stop That.

Jonas Frey, the inventor of Appointment Trader, a reservation platform that allows people to buy spots at exclusive restaurants, in Miami, April 5, 2023. (Joshua Aronson/The New York Times)
Jonas Frey, the inventor of Appointment Trader, a reservation platform that allows people to buy spots at exclusive restaurants, in Miami, April 5, 2023. (Joshua Aronson/The New York Times)

NEW YORK — It is no secret that it can be difficult to reserve a table at many popular New York City restaurants, especially with some third-party services using computer bots to make reservations and then selling them at steep prices.

Diners will be happy to know the task could soon get easier.

On Thursday, state lawmakers approved a bill that would prevent such third-party services from “listing, advertising, promoting or selling reservations for a food service establishment” without the establishment’s approval. The legislation requires Gov. Kathy Hochul’s signature before becoming law.

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The bill is a “major victory for the hospitality industry in New York,” Melissa Fleischut, president of the New York State Restaurant Association, a trade group, said in a statement. She said the law would ensure that diners “no longer have to compete with predatory bots.”

Unlike reservation services Resy and OpenTable, the third-party websites targeted by the legislation often do not have relationships with the restaurants for which they post listings, lawmakers wrote in the bill, adding that the platforms “forced consumers to endure enormous fees while devastating small businesses.”

In recent years, wealthy New Yorkers have spent hundreds of dollars for reservations at some of the city’s most in-demand restaurants, using sites like Appointment Trader. People who already have tables and do not want them for whatever reason use the sites to sell bookings, as do bots that have snapped up online reservations.

Prices for listings can vary widely. On Friday, for example, Appointment Trader listed reservations for parties for two that evening at Tatiana, which The New York Times has rated as the best restaurant in the city this year, as available: one for $80, the other for $365. The average cost for a reservation at Tatiana over the past three months was around $100.

“I absolutely understand where the legislation is coming from,” said Jonas Frey, Appointment Trader’s founder. But he said his website had become popular because it was already difficult to get a reservation, especially in the New York City area. The service, he said, now has more than 30,000 customers in the region.

“It wasn’t us who made it hard to get a reservation,” he said. “New York slopped us up like nobody’s business because it was so hard to get a reservation.” He said he had requested a meeting with Hochul to discuss the bill.

Frey said he started Appointment Trader because he wanted to help people get tables for a “fair market price.” He said he understood that bots were an issue and had tried to prevent them from exploiting the website, in part by adding a feature that sends warnings to users who post numerous listings but sell less than half of them. Such behavior, he said, most likely indicated that a bot was at work. If an Appointment Trader user sells less than a quarter of their listings, they cannot cash out or receive the proceeds from their sales.

Executives at reservation services OpenTable and Resy applauded the state crackdown.

“The passage of this bill is a meaningful one for restaurants and will help protect their bottom lines by reducing the ‘no shows’ caused by fraudulent reservations,” said Debby Soo, CEO of OpenTable, which works with more than 55,000 restaurants.

Pablo Rivero, Resy’s CEO, noted in a statement that the legislation was “a significant step forward to protect restaurants and diners from reservation fraud.”

Dame, a seafood restaurant in Greenwich Village, was among the businesses in support of the bill. Lady Marmalade, who takes reservations at the restaurant, said Dame had been open for three years and still received complaints from people who were unable to book a table.

“Prime-time slots get snatched within minutes of their being released on Resy,” Marmalade said, “and though I have no way of knowing whether it’s bots or eager diners snatching them up, I can only hope the passage of the act helps.”

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