The next available reservation at Atomix is almost two months away, but in one small, relatively opinionated corner of the internet, there are two seats at the Michelin-starred Korean restaurant up for grabs next week.
Over the last month, New Yorkers have turned to Reddit to sell their coveted, sometimes $1,500 reservations to Michelin-starred restaurants due to coronavirus exposures and cancelled plans. Close to a dozen posts have appeared on r/FoodNYC and other subreddits in recent weeks, advertising reservations at fine dining restaurants including Atomix and Eleven Madison Park, which require customers to pay for ahead of time in full and are listed as “non-refundable” on reservation platform Tock.
“Unfortunately 2 people in our party have tested positive for covid, so we will not be making the trip to NYC,” one user wrote in a post advertising a table for four at Eleven Madison Park on New Year’s Eve. “Asking for the price I paid. $1,524.25 total (inc tax) OBO.” Another user, who listed two seats at Atomix in late December, shared that they had cancelled their plans because their fiancé “was not feeling well.” The cost of their reservation? $707.69.
Ostensibly, the customers turned to Reddit because — similar to other fine dining restaurants across the city — reservations at Atomix and Eleven Madison Park are typically not refundable. Both restaurants allow customers to reschedule their reservations only once, with at least 48 hours notice in the case of Atomix, but in posts on Reddit, users who identified as out-of-town visitors claimed to be selling — rather than rescheduling — their reservations because they had to cancel their trips altogether.
The Reddit listings, which range in price from $500 to $1,500 each, are completely legal so long as they are earnest attempts at exchanging a reservation that do not exceed the original paid price of the booking, says Tock founder Nick Kokonas. “If a booking is prepaid and non-refundable it becomes the property, like a ticket, of the booking owner,” Kokonas tells Eater over email. “They can sell it. If we see an IP address that is doing this multiple times, we block them and their associated email address accounts from buying future bookings as they are likely a scalper.”
Tock is one of few online booking platforms to allow its users to transfer dinner reservations to one another, which is legally required for pre-paid, non-refundable bookings. According to Kokonas, New Yorkers have been exchanging reservations on Craigslist, Facebook, Reddit, and other online groups for years, but the practice appears to have picked up steam in recent weeks, as cases of the omicron variant have forced restaurants to temporarily shutter and diners to postpone their plans.
Across Tock, requests for refunds are at the highest levels they’ve been since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, according to Kokonas, when close to 100 percent of bookings were being cancelled. Cancellation rates this month have more than doubled since November, he says.
A rise in cancellations during the pandemic has caused Atomix to walk back its no-refund policy. “We understand the situation of guests who require cancellations day-of due to exposure or positive test results,” a spokesperson for the two-Michelin-starred Korean restaurant said over email. “For this reason, for covid-19 we issue a full refund, and offer assistance to rebook the reservation for guests when they have returned to full health, based on availability.”
Eleven Madison Park did not respond to requests for comment.
No refund policies aren’t uncommon, in part because of the high-cost of ingredients and labor at the highest end of dining in New York City. “In restaurant culture, especially in fine dining, a ‘no refund’ policy is one that respects the restaurant,” a spokesperson for Atomix explains. “Fine dining restaurants including Atomix prepare our operations and details of the menu based on our planned reservations... No shows, or day-of cancellations impact a restaurant’s operations and business greatly.”
In addition to Atomix and Eleven Madison Park, Saga in the Financial District also lists a no-refund policy for its $245 per person tasting menu. Others, including Midtown’s Per Se and Masa near Columbus Circle, require customers to pay a $200 and $650 deposit per person, respectively, at the time a reservation is made.