Robots Are Stealing Your Restaurant Reservations

If you want a seat at the hottest spot in town, you're probably competing against a bot.

If you've been trying to snag an online reservation at the hottest restaurant in town and you've been stymied at every turn, you're certainly not alone. The Hustle reports that you've got stiff competition—and it's probably not even human.

One possible reason you're unable to book a table is that a bot might have stolen the choicest seating times out from under you. This is a frustrating situation for diners, especially because it's not like a computer program can stroll into the dining room and enjoy the meal you were hoping to order. If it wasn't already obvious, these bots are the work of companies picking up fast cash for almost no effort.

Bots snatch up reservations for resale value

Just like we've seen so often with Ticketmaster, where all the best concert tickets are snapped up to resell for double their face value, various opportunists are locking down reservations at popular restaurants and holding them for ransom. People's clicking fingers are no match for the speed of a programmed bot, and those prime dinner seats at prime establishments—like New York's Carbone, for example—are then flipped on resale sites like Appointment Trader, Cita, and ResX, where they can be sold for a hefty sum (and you'll still have to pay the restaurant bill in full, too).


Obviously, this sucks for a lot of reasons. One of them being that the vast majority of restaurant reservations are meant to be free, and you might miss out on celebrating your anniversary at the restaurant of your dreams because the system has been rigged to reward the highest bidder. If the bot-purchased reservation goes untouched and nobody shows up, restaurants aren't making money on that table, and they're losing the money they spent staffing servers for it. Moreover, they often can't even recoup the loss via cancellation fees, since these bots tend to snag the reservations using bogus credit card numbers.

How restaurants are fighting back against bot reservations

Since the digital paper trail is deliberately obfuscated, it can be difficult for restaurant owners to crack down on bot reservations. Bloomberg spoke to the Em Pak, manager for Double Chicken Please (second place on the World's 50 Best Bars list), to see how the bar has been dealing with the issue.


Pak explained that there are a few red flags when it comes to a bot-placed reservation. These include garbled email addresses, disconnected phone numbers, bad credit cards, and unusual booking activity, such as back-to-back reservations placed during Friday and Saturday for multiple weeks in a row.

Double Chicken Please uses restaurant booking site Resy to handle reservations. Resy, Bloomberg notes, has been fighting back by "deleting confirmed bot profiles" and by following up with emails to brokers telling them to stop. Double Chicken Please has also allowed for more walk-in customers and has shrunk the amount of reservations they offer overall. Other restaurant booking companies like Tock have an entire fraud prevention team dedicated to handling such issues.


But since there's not yet any proven method to verify which reservations are legitimate, some restaurants deal with it by contacting every customer to verify if they're actually planning on coming. That's a time-consuming process, one that can be a drain on restaurant owners and staff.

One other way to deal with the problem is by adding a reservation fee. The restaurants I've visited with reservation fees typically use that money as a credit toward your final bill, so it's not a real loss for me as a diner, as I was going to use that cash for that purpose anyway. But as long as the bots continue to be an issue, it looks like we might just have to get used to these practices. Or hey, maybe we'll revert back to calling the restaurant instead of booking online.