TableXchange: Would-Be Stubhub for Restaurant Reservations (Alas...)

We’re just as sick as everyone else of getting busy signals at Babbo (seriously, you get busy signals), even when calling the requisite month in advance. So when we heard about TableXchange, a New York startup that promised an online reservation solution just in time for Restaurant Week, we were intrigued. After checking it out, we applaud the founders’ ingenuity, but we have some…reservations.

Billed as the Stubhub of restaurant reservations, TableXchange allows users to buy and sell tables at Zagat hot spots the same way baseball and music fans hawk extra tickets on Ebay. Sellers, who must have Paypal accounts, pick a price of up to $40 for their tables.  Buyers can then pay for the tables with a PayPal account or credit card, at which point TableXchange releases the name the reservation was made under.  The site, which currently offers dinner reservations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Hamptons, takes a 12% cut on all reservations sold.

We remember the furor over PrimeTimeTables’ first foray into the restaurant scalping business last winter. (PrimeTime actually reserved and then resold tables, the way travel intermediaries often buy and resell blocks of hotel rooms).  PrimeTime has since stopped selling individual tables, choosing instead to offer memberships in exchange for a certain number of premium reservations per year. Although the founders of TableXchange seem to have taken great pains to avoid any comparison to PrimeTimeTables, it’s hard not to make them.

If restaurants were cooperating with TableXchange, it would be one thing, but they aren’t: As far as the restaurants know, they are serving the person who originally made the reservation.  And therein lies TableXchange’s fatal flaw: Pretending to be someone else for the night just to snag a top table is deceptive (and feels that way), even when you’ve paid for the right to do it. The big difference between TableXchange and Stubhub, in other words, is that event tickets are not made in the original buyer’s name.  Someone who buys tickets on Stubhub does not have to pretend to be someone else; someone who buys a reservation on TableXchange does.

If TableXChange began generating some buzz, moreover, another problem might arise.  Even if TableXchange could effectively prevent sellers from offering fake reservations (a lesser potential problem, but an embarrassing one to be the victim of), a cottage industry would likely develop around reserving and reselling tables.  This would eventually–and understandably–prompt a response from restaurants, which might strike back by demanding an ID from everyone at the door, or a credit card in advance.

The TableXchange service, in other words, sounds convenient, and anyone who has gotten the Babbo treatment can be forgiven for feeling that hot restaurants deserve whatever they get. But any business that forces the buyer to deceive a third-party–which, in its current form, TableXchange still does–is not long for this world.  Via NewYorkology

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