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Reservations Apps Don’t Always Get You the Best Tables

The way to get a coveted reservation is to ask a real live human for a seat

Woman at a restaurant hostess stand on the phone. Monkey Business Studio / Shutterstock
Monica Burton is the deputy editor of

This post originally appeared in the February 10, 2020 edition of The Move, a place for Eater’s editors to reveal their recommendations and pro dining tips — sometimes thoughtful, sometimes weird, but always someone’s go-to move. Subscribe now.

All too often, showing up at a restaurant without a reservation is a recipe for disappointment. An unfortunately frequent scenario goes something like this: Faced with an hours-long wait at your first-choice restaurant, you decide to try your luck at the next place, and then the next, only to realize that had you put a name down at the first place, you’d be eating by now. But getting a reservation isn’t easy, either. Despite an abundance of internet platforms designed expressly to make restaurant reservations (Resy, OpenTable, Tock, etc.), it often seems as though anywhere worth going is completely booked. The way to get a coveted reservation, then? Pick up the phone, dial a restaurant’s phone number, and politely ask a real person for a seat.

Reservation apps have trained us to scroll their systems for available reservations, but there was a time when a call was the only way to book a dinner table, coveted or otherwise. Calling a restaurant can still get you a reservation when the online system claims there are no seats available — a restaurant host may be able to give you a table usually reserved for walk-ins or agree to call you back if there are any cancellations. Calling also works when the reservation available online isn’t quite the right one. I’ve called restaurants when I’ve needed a table for three, but Resy is only showing availability for four, or when I’m seeing two-tops for 8 p.m. but I’d much prefer to eat at 7:30.

It should be obvious that a person on the other end of a phone call would be more accommodating than a computer program, but recognizing that the phone is there for you also opens up a whole other category of restaurants. I’m ashamed to admit that when I’m stumped for where to eat, I sometimes find myself scrolling through a restaurant booking app looking for a spot that suits my party size and time-slot needs — completely removing from consideration restaurants that aren’t on the apps. But these restaurants should be your go-to for reservations precisely because so many people forget that they’re even an option.

By picking up and dialing the phone, I’ve gotten day-of tables for four on weekend nights and planned dinner for a group of eight with a day’s notice. Aside from restaurants that don’t take reservations, the only venues this strategy will never work for are those without phone numbers. But those restaurants are infuriating anyway, and maybe if we all decide to use the phone more, we can get them to change their ways, too.

P.S. OpenTable still dominates the online reservations game, but learn why competition from other apps is stiffer than ever.