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Reservation Scalpers 

TablePronto's service gets mixed reviews from restaurateurs

Wednesday, Nov 28 2007
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The idea behind TablePronto.com is very simple: Say you have to bail on your reservation at One Market next Friday. Why let it go to waste when you can scalp it? Sellers set a price (usually between $7 and $15), a last-minute diner lacking the dough to bribe the maitre d' can snap up your table, and all's well that ends well.

Right? Not exactly.

"It seems a little bit immoral," said Kevin Westlye, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, a local food industry trade group. "The fear is that an individual could book reservations without any intention of actually dining at these restaurants, then turn around and make money selling them. I think it's totally wrong."

But according to TablePronto CEO Antoine Powell, there are no career reservation hustlers lurking on the site. It's just an idea born from plain old laziness and enterprise working together for a more lucrative dinner date. "We're trying to live harmoniously with the restaurant community," he says. "We don't want to encourage a scalper frenzy. You're not going to make a living off selling these reservations. Nobody is."

To make sure of that, the company controls the flow, accepting only three reservations per seller per day. TablePronto, which started offering its services in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago, also won't allow more than three reservations at any one restaurant per day. Powell says that will prevent sellers from screwing over restaurants with an abundance of no-shows when leftover reservations expire unsold.

Still, TablePronto seems to know that some restaurants are leery of anybody making a buck off their tables, which explains the site's policy urging patrons not to discuss it with the restaurants where they make their reservations.

A flurry of blog posts about TablePronto earlier this month revealed that at least one upscale San Francisco eatery, Aqua, isn't too happy about the reservation shilling. Food-blog-about-town Eater SF reported that an unnamed waiter at Aqua saw an offer for a Friday night table for two and contacted vice president of operations Jean-Claude Persais, who, upon hearing, was "fit to be tied."

"This is business," Persais tells SF Weekly. "And to have people pay to get into the restaurant is not right."

Thus far Powell says nobody from Aqua has contacted him. But the question remains: Are hoity-toity restaurant reservations really valuable enough to shill for cold cash, even in a food-obsessed city like San Francisco?

"It's not that hard to get reservations in San Francisco," Powell concedes. "But our customers are paying for their last-minute decisions."

About The Author

Brian Bernbaum

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