An Eater critic on his relationship with the reservation platform and how it’s changing anonymity when dining out
Resy wants to be your friend by helping commemorate life’s milestones. Last year, it sent an email congratulating me for making my 20th Resy reservation, tendering a dose of cringeworthy flattery: “Hats off to you: Your 20th Resy is officially in the books. At this point, you’re a pro — we’d bet you’re the one people turn to when they need a restaurant recommendation.” Sounding more like Big Brother in 1984, it continued, “We see you, we appreciate you, and we can’t wait to see where you dine next.”
Resy never hesitates to pester you, weighing down your inbox with reservation reminders, roundups of restaurants it wants you to try, announcements of events featuring Resy clients and celebrities, or harangues to go out and enjoy yourself. Resy has even tried to sell me Christmas cookies. But as an actual reservation looms, the emails become more urgent.
On a recent visit to Mesa Provisions in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in addition to an email further confirming my reservation (which had already been confirmed on the app), it sent a second email with a litany of warnings, which ran from cash penalties for canceling to wheedling entreaties to “please be kind.” That email seemed to imply a certain level of distrust, as if it thought I required both reminders and outright threats. (No shows, I gather, are a real problem.)
I’d made the reservation under a false name, but when I arrived at the restaurant, the reservation was listed as Robert Sietsema, which is something critics like to avoid. The same thing has happened in NYC, suggesting that some algorithm is collating stray pieces of personal information or some human at a restaurant had identified my pseudonym and made a note.
Probably the phone app — which calls itself a “hospitality technology platform” — was also gleaning what I ordered, how much I spent, and, doubtlessly, how I paid for my meal. It made me wonder, when I step up to the podium and the greeter looks at my reservation on the glowing screen, how much do they know about me that I’m unaware of?
And indeed, a 2015 article by Resy founder Ben Leventhal (who also co-founded Eater) hints at the type of info the app collects, and how it might be used to customize restaurant operations: “We’re creating more direct relationships between consumers and individual restaurants….empowering restaurants to behave as premium entertainment producers.” And later, “We offer restaurants floor plan, table and customer management.”
Paranoid maunderings aside, Resy has become much more than a service that simply makes reservations. It collects information for itself and its clients, the full extent of which is unknown. On its website, Resy admits, “We may collect the following types of information about you: Identity Data, which includes name or other similar identifiers [emphasis mine]. Contact Data, which includes address, email address and telephone numbers. Financial Data, which includes credit card, debit card or other payment card details.”
What can Resy do with this info? Well, anything it wants, much like any other tech company. Including, as the last of 10 bulleted items on another list on its website reads: It can use information “in other ways as required or permitted by law or with your consent.” Depending on how you read it, the last phrase might syntactically mean, “we don’t need your consent.”
Resy follows up on a dining experience with email surveys that primarily ask single questions and seem to be more about engagement. A recent email from Le Dive simply asked me to rate the restaurant on a scale of 1 to 10, which as we learned, helps rank restaurants on the Resy Top Rated list.
The most annoying aspect of Resy may be the actual reservations it offers. On a recent evening after a cold snap, I wanted to eat outdoors at Daddies in the West Village and figured it would be an easy table to get since it was relatively new, with lots of outdoor seating, and little had been written about the place. When I checked the availability for tables for two, I found a glowing blue wall with every time-brick lit at 15-minute increments, meaning I could waltz in and dine with a friend whenever I wanted.
But when we added a third friend and looked for seating for three, everything disappeared except the bricks at 9 p.m. and later. Then I checked on seating for four people and plenty of seats were available. Three-tops notoriously waste a potentially profitable seat at tables that can accommodate four, but was it Resy or the restaurant that was automatically imposing this restriction — after all, aren’t threesomes a fact of life? And do we not deserve a table because we’re not an even number?
Also, what percentage of tables does a restaurant put up on Resy? If Resy shows a restaurant totally booked for weeks into the future, are there non-Resy tables I can simply walk in and claim, or should I call the restaurant and try to reserve a table from an actual person?
Restaurants before data harvesting had been a third space, a place to socialize or a private zone where, unless you were a celebrity or politician, you could be truly anonymous. At worst, you could join a paramour for an affair. At best, you could meet with a prospective company trying to poach you, all under the radar. With all of the tracking and check-ins, being a nobody, especially in the case of a restaurant critic, is harder than ever.
Meanwhile, the Resy empire gains ground, sponsoring culinary events, providing payment services, generating city guides, and fielding original content in various forms.
Will Resy dominate and even increase its power over the restaurant industry? For me, using Resy has become unavoidable. The days of dinner as a semiprivate experience are behind us. Today, dining out, particularly at a table secured by Resy, is like sharing your table with a nosy stranger.