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Diners are scrambling for access to restaurants outside of reservation apps.
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Restaurants Are Ditching House Phones. That Doesn’t Mean You Should Text the Owner.

With the rise of reservation apps, restaurants are deluged with diners asking for tables over DM, emails, and phone calls

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Melissa McCart is the editor for Eater New York.

As reservations apps reinforce that tables are harder to get than ever, privileged, bold, and determined customers jockey for access to hot restaurants by DM, text, and especially by phone calls.

Roni Mazumdar, a partner of Unapologetic Foods, which includes blockbuster Dhamaka, Michelin-starred Semma, and Brooklyn’s Masalawala & Sons, says he was sitting a dinner on a night off when he struck off a conversation with diners at another table – who promptly asked for his personal phone number.

“I think I’ve offended a million people by refusing to give it out,” he says, noting people who ask are “well-meaning and lovely,” but “it’s a terrible business practice” to allow one-to-one access for reservations or special favors. He says it’s not a particular demographic that’s clamoring for numbers, although entitlement can come into play. It’s just about access – which he’s increasingly limiting for the sake of business, as perplexing as that might seem.

Landlines, naturally, have gone out of fashion in the past decade, but some restaurants are nixing access to even a house cell phone or Google numbers. At Mazumdar’s restaurants that used to have phones, they don’t now (those listed on Google are wrong, he says) because, “I’d have to hire people just to answer the phone,” he says, “and even that would lead to conflicts.”

Not being able to call a restaurant means the cutting back of certain aspects of hospitality that used to be commonplace: Diners can’t call to notify a restaurant they’re on the way but running late, or the table has dropped from six customers, to four, for example.

With a labor shortage, restaurants are trimming where they can which can often result in more opportunities for things to go wrong. On Mazumdar’s Instagram profile, it reads, “I do not handle reservations – Check Resy” since, in addition to calls, he’s getting on average 50 asks a day for reservations there, too. “If I allowed that,” he says, “many mistakes would happen.”

Another restaurant that’s been inundated with requests is Raf’s, the bakery space that’s now a small restaurant from the folks behind the Michelin-starred Musket Room, which opened the restaurant last season without a phone number because, “we can’t staff the line.”

While reservations can be made via Resy, people “send site forms, call the Musket Room, and DM us trying to get a reservation,” says Raf’s partner, Nicole Vitagliano. She says that because Raf’s is more casual than Musket Room, “it’s a different beast,” and more people want to get in. While, “we appreciate spontaneity,” and “we save more tables than most,” she says, “it is not possible to be open all the time for everyone.” And over at the newly opened Roscioli from Rome, partner Ariel Arce says, “All I do is filter the DM requests. It’s nonstop.”

For the savvy (or in some cases thirsty influencers), they can beeline to PR to navigate coveted tables. A spokesperson for Michael Solomonov’s tough-to-get-into Laser Wolf on the Hoxton hotel rooftop in Williamsburg, Sarah Rosenberg says she “gets a lot of texts and emails” — around 50 a day — for seats. “At least I’m making a lot of new friends, but often, I can’t help them.”

Meanwhile, plenty of old-school restaurants are impermeable to the whims of the latest technology.

Legacy restaurants, such as those in the Keith McNally empire, often maintain phone lines and allow for customers to make reservations by calling. Michael Hicks, manager at Balthazar, the brasserie that opened in 1997 that still can seat over 500 people a night, says about half of Balthazar’s reservations are made over the phone.

“It’s a lot easier to relay important reservation notes, make changes, explain situations to a real person rather than write it in a Resy booking and hope someone sees it,” says Hicks. When they first came back from the pandemic, he says many customers mentioned, “it feels like the industry has become a lot colder and less personal as new technology takes over.”

Power still lies in the phone call for a certain kind of restaurant: At Polo Bar, for example, there is a Resy option, but rarely does the restaurant release tables through it. In fact, the Resy page encourages diners to call. Reservations books open at the top of the month, while celebrities and others considered soigné call a full-time team of reservationists employed to make decisions for the books based on tiers of importance.

Michael Cecchi-Azzolina, industry vet and owner of just-opened Cecchi’s, has plenty to say about how people score reservations, having led the front-of-the-house at Raoul’s and Le Coucou. (He’s also the author of Your Table Is Ready: Tales of a New York City Maitre ’D.) He says he’ll always have a phone line staffed day and night, something that he says Stephen Starr required, “and in the end he’s right.”

While 80 percent of diners in its first few weeks open book Cecchi’s reservations through Resy, he says “it’s good customer service to answer the phones. And while it’s hard in the short run, it’s worth it in the long run.” Having “been in this business a long time,” he says he has tons of regulars, friends, and acquaintances who also have his personal cell number — for whom he helps them get tables. “They expect that as part of hospitality.” And, when he or his staff calls and leaves messages to confirm reservations, “customers are surprised, shocked, and happy” to get a message from an actual human being, he says.

Lots of restaurants say they can’t afford to ice customers when it comes to direct communication. Over at neighborhood restaurant the Noortwyck in the Village — that opened about a year ago from Eleven Madison alums chef Andrew Quinn and sommelier Cedric Nicaise — Nicaise says, “We’re not Claud,” referring to the booked-up, weeks-in-advance wine bar near Union Square. While the restaurant has a cadre of regulars, they’re actually encouraging more direct communication through email and an upcoming VIP phone line.

“We have a good business and we want to provide access,” says Nicaise. “We don’t want to be seen as an impossible-to-get-into neighborhood restaurant.”

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