Reservations at New York City's top restaurants are selling for hundreds of dollars

Some college students work in school cafeterias or local coffee shops, but Alex Eisler, a second-year student at Brown University in Rhode Island, sells dinner reservations at some of New York City's most famous restaurants.

He does this through an app called Appointment Trader, where people can pay for a seat at a table at some of the city's busiest spots like 4 Charles, Don Angie or Carbone, a practice that has earned the scorn of some top restaurants. Have done and earned. Eisler $100,000 in the last 19 months.

For everyday New Yorkers and tourists, such coveted seats are nearly impossible to obtain, making platforms like Resy – a popular and free site – a hotbed of securing reservations. It works with over 16,000 restaurants worldwide, but for New York's most popular restaurants, reservations disappear just seconds after going live.

Enter platforms like Appointment Trader, where people can pay to claim space — in addition to their food and drinks, which can easily add up to hundreds of dollars at New York prices.

Don Angie is one of the high-demand restaurants in New York City where people are willing to pay to secure a seat.Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

Here's how the platform works: Its 15,000 sellers receive the best reservations, which are then posted on Appointment Trader, where users place their bids. The higher the demand, the higher the final price.

“If you make things available, people will pay for it,” said Jonas Frey, creator of Appointment Trader, who explained that the idea was born after a frustrating day at the DMV.

“There was a long line and I was wondering how is it possible that I can't pay to get an appointment?” He said. “There has to be a demand for it.”

After months of coding, Frey launched Appointment Trader in 2021. They soon saw demand skyrocket, but not for DMV appointments. For restaurant reservations.

Alex Eisler.Courtesy Alex Eisler

As it turns out, according to Frey, a lot of people are willing to pay for access to an exclusive dining experience. Appointment Trader sold $5.7 million in reservations last year, he said, with customers buying an average of $20,000 a day in recent weeks.

Most of the proceeds go to vendors like Eisler, Frey said, and the site takes a 20% to 30% cut.

Eisler, a top seller on the platform, heard about Appointment Trader during a trip to New York a few years ago when he was looking for reservations himself.

“I realized that if someone else could sell it, why couldn't I? I have nothing to lose,” he said. “So when I finally started, I was waking up at 9 or 10 in the morning, just going on my phone to res when reservations came in, and then booking them.

“And then it all just escalated from there.”

He said he tries to balance his class schedule with his business to keep his business afloat.

“This semester, personally my Tuesdays are nothing – no classes,” he said. “So Tuesday is like my reservation day.”

He uses dozens of Resi accounts, emails, programmed bots and even different voices when calling the phone at the restaurant, he said.

Jonas Frey.Courtesy Jonas Frey

“I set an alarm on my phone to remind me to go to the race,” he said. “And when someone cancels a reservation, I get a notification that it's available. So then I can either have a bot automatically get it for me, or I can do it myself.

But if the reservation gets canceled or his account is flagged by a restaurant that doesn't want to resell his reservation or it gets flagged by Resy, he'll have to stay on top of it.

“A lot of my accounts have been closed,” he said.

Representatives for Resy did not respond to requests for comment, but its terms and conditions say, “You will not resell or distribute, or attempt to resell or distribute, any reservation.”

Frey said that when he first started Appointment Trader, “we got a bunch of cease-and-desist letters.”

“There weren't that many open weapons,” he said. “They were more armed.”

But as the site grew, some restaurants partnered with it and agreed to submit bids on Appointment Trader, ensuring a cut for themselves.

Ciria Alvarez, manager of chef Kwame Onwuachi's restaurant Tatiana New York City, said she understands why people are willing to pay for reservations.Chris Sorensen for The Washington Post via Getty Images

But Ciria Alvarez, restaurant manager at Tatiana's, which was ranked No. 1 in New York City by the New York Times for two years in a row, said the practice makes already niche options even more inaccessible.

“This is very frustrating for guests who try to get a reservation the proper way,” Alvarez said. “Buying and selling reservations is not about who you know, it's about what you have.”

Frey argued that placing a price tag on reservations gives more people a chance to enter the world of specialty dining.

“There are certain restaurants in the world that are highly marketed, where you can really only get into if you're part of the elite,” he said.

Alvarez said she's not surprised people have resorted to buying reservations at places like Tatiana's, where chef Kwame Onwuachi, a “Top Chef” alumnus and recipient of the James Beard “Rising Star” award, brings his African-Caribbean Let's combine the heritage with the new. York City upbringing on the menu.

Kwame Onwuachi, Tatiana's chef.Christina Bumphrey/Variety via Getty Images

“With a waiting list of over 1,200 people a day, I can imagine why the rate would be that high,” she said.

Alvarez said Tatiana does not sell reservations, which become available on Resy 20 days in advance at 12 p.m. ET but sell out in less than 30 seconds.

“Guests who have waited so long – for months, maybe a year, maybe standing in line outside for hours – always say it was worth the wait,” he said.

Frey countered: “Waiting is a terrible thing in general. I think it would be an ideal scenario if there was no waiting time, but only a price to pay.”

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