Every city has restaurants where it’s almost impossible to book a reservation for less than two months in advance, or if you’re luck at 5:30pm or after 10:00pm. In San Francisco, that includes restaurants like flour + water, Frances and State Bird Provisions. There’s always the option of slogging it out, showing up, and waiting for a bar table or to actually get regular table, but that typically involves a minimum of an hour or more of wait time.
There is now an easier way and it’s called Rezhound, a weekend hack project by Reed Kavner (@reedkavner) in San Francisco. When you visit the site, it detects your IP address and automatically sets your region, and to start you enter the restaurant you want to book. You select a date, time and number of guests and finally whether your time is flexible, in which case it will search within two hours of your stated time. Then Rezhound does the rest of the work, regularly checking via OpenTable if that reservation is available, and notifying you by email when your table is available. Sorry OpenTable restaurants only.
While I tip my hat to Reed for pulling together this service in his spare time, I wonder why OpenTable has not developed this feature itself. This feels like it could be a natural addition to the reservation flow. When your initial request comes up empty, OT will spit out next available dates and times where same party size reservations are open. I could imagine a prompt at this point to get an email notification when availability opens up. You could select multiple dates you are interested in and OT would send you an email notification when a table meeting your criteria comes available. You would still have to proactively book your reservation on OT at this point, but if you were to reply immediately, you’re in. I could see an interface similar to Kayak where you could manage all your reservation alerts.
This could be a win for all parties involved. Guests can dine when and where they want. OpenTable will drive return traffic to the website and secure additional bookings. Now the restaurant would probably fill the table either way, but what it could also capture, with help from OpenTable, is effectively a wait list and valuable demand data for reservations on various nights of the week. But perhaps I’m missing possible downsides here? OpenTable has been at it for over a decade and they haven’t implemented this feature. That said, I’d love to see up and running.