Online reservations only: a new trend for restaurants?

April 4, 2008

Online reservations only: a new trend for restaurants? Supply and demand play wicked tricks with willing minds, and David Chang in New York has succeeded in creating a virtual scarcity that both excites and frustrates his would-be patrons. His latest restaurant, Momofuku Ko only accepts online reservations. No walk-ins or call-ins, and no exceptions for VIPs.

Accepting online reservations only at first glance seems to be an innovative way of filling just the right number of seats each evening, but camouflaged underneath the shiny surface is an underlying problem common with many sites that use time management databases: concurrently active sessions.

A user logs in and begins making his or her selections, then clicks on the submit button only to discover that someone else has beaten them to it! “At every 15-minute interval that you try, that no reservations for any time during the following week are available right then, just as no reservations were available 15 minutes before that, or 15 minutes before that,” according to the New York Times.

And it happens fast, in some cases less than 2 minutes: “using a name not my own, I have tried this on several occasions, submitting requests between 9:58 and 10:02, trying to hit the right moment. By 10:02 or 10:03, I’m being told that all the reservations for the night just made available are gone, baby, gone.”

This sort of product and service mongering reminds me of the iPhone and Nintendo Wii releases, and sites like Woot.com where supply is limited and demand rises to an almost feverish pitch.

The interesting part though, is the obvious selection of other restaurants in New York. Somehow, David Chang has convinced a segment of people that eating at his restaurant warrants the frustration of a cutthroat reservation system. Is it really worth the bragging rights?

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