The weather is warmer, COVID restrictions have lifted (in most places), and people are ready to hit the hottest restaurants. For some, it’s a return to dining that’s been two years in the making—pre-pandemic, while it was easy enough to simply walk into a restaurant and sit down, more restaurants these days have implemented reservation systems to better manage crowds and staffing.
According to online reservation app Resy, April 2022 was its busiest month on record; and Tock, another digital reservation platform, has seen the highest number of guests on their waitlists ever. This bodes well for restaurants—many of which are still struggling to recover COVID-era losses—but what does it mean for the many diners who aren’t able to get on a list?
The sad reality is that at this moment there are simply less restaurants to choose from—according to the National Restaurant Association, 90,000 locations have temporarily or permanently closed since the beginning of the pandemic. Restaurants that survived are being slammed with reservations to make up the difference, even ones that expanded their capacity with outdoor seating.
The pivot to using national apps over site-specific reservation systems makes a difference, too. For example, American Express owns Resy, Wall Street Journal reports, and allows card members access to tables that aren’t available for everyone.
Some restaurants just have their own protocols—chef Eric Ripert tells Wall Street Journal that he blocks off tables for up to 20 people each night to accommodate regulars who walk in. If you’re a first-timer trying to get a seat, you just have to wait your turn.
Dining out at your favorite restaurant isn’t impossible, you just might have to let go of your reliance on technology. If you’re not seeing open tables on a restaurant’s online reservation portal, pick up the phone. Even if the night in question is indeed booked, you might be able to get on a waiting list not offered online if a table opens up. If you’re planning ahead for a larger party for a celebration, calling ahead is always the way to go—there may even be a designated area set aside in the restaurant for such occasions.
If you’re dining solo or in a smaller group, it never hurts to just walk in and see what’s available. There may be smaller, “less desirable” tables that aren’t offered on online reservation platforms, or maybe just no one else wanted to sit at that spot next to the bathroom.
And never underestimate the joy of dining at the bar, seats that are more often than not first come, first serve. You have easy access to drinks as you dine, are able to put in your food order more quickly, and might even make a new friend or two. Before you know it, you’ll all be regulars at the joint with tables always waiting, never to worry about reservations again.