OpenTable is dipping its toe into the pay-to-play reservation wars. The widely embraced reservations app is testing something it calls Premium Reservations, giving users the option to pay a fee for "last-minute, prime-time reservations at popular restaurants."
The company announced the test phase on its blog early this morning. It explains the motivation behind the move thusly: "When research revealed that many OpenTable diners are willing to pay for last-minute, prime-time reservations at popular restaurants, we launched into exploration. ... Giving guests without the ability to plan ahead (last-minute business travelers, unexpected celebrations, etc.), the opportunity to be seated will delight those in need of your hospitality."
The Premium Reservations test will be very limited, offering "last-minute reservations on Friday and Saturday nights for a handful of tables" at NYC hot spot Cosme; it will only be available to OpenTable iPhone app users who have enabled Apple Pay. OpenTable says 100 percent of the proceeds will go straight to the restaurant.
The price for a coveted reservation is quite high: A primetime (7:00 p.m. or 8:00 p.m.), same-day reservation tonight costs between $100 to $200, when we checked earlier today. According to the receptionist at Cosme, the price of the reservation does not go towards the cost of dinner. Note that there are free reservations available at 7:30 and 7:45 p.m.
If this concept sounds familiar, that's because it was pioneered by Table8, a start-up based in San Francisco. Last year, Resy, founded by Eater co-founder Ben Leventhal and partner Gary Vaynerchuk, broke onto the scene. Resy's pay-to-play model has been a controversial one, with critics arguing that it's basically the equivalent of ticket scalping and only benefits restaurants' profits while hurting customers; but it's also been seemingly successful, raising millions in additional funding and expanding to L.A., not to mention spawning scores of imitators like Shout, Zurvu, and Killer Rezzy.
OpenTable has been on a forward-thinking expansion tear as of late, revamping its brand and delving into new arenas like mobile payments. If its Premium Reservations test phase proves successful, the company says it will consider rolling it out to a wider audience.
Update 10/6: An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified Resy as the pioneer of pay-to-play restaurant reservations. That distinction goes to Table8.