Resy creeping into Charleston restaurant booking market

Waiter Henry Mullin places drinks in front of customers at The Westendorff on Wednesday, July 29, 2015. Lauren Prescott/Staff

For diners, OpenTable is a near-perfect system. Minor gripes about its rewards program aside, the online service has made it possible for diners to book a meal without having to worry about timing their calls correctly.

Yet that efficiency comes at a price to restaurateurs. Steven Niketas, owner of The Westendorff, estimates he spent about $1000 a month at his restaurant in Richmond for OpenTable to manage his reservations; the fee is calculated at $2 for each seat booked through the site. At The Westendorff, he says, “I really wanted a mechanism that was great at tracking without the expensive app.”

Niketas ended up signing on with Resy, a phone-based system that this month also added Little Jack’s Tavern to its roster. After paying a few hundred dollars for installation, Niketas can process unlimited reservations for $99 a month.

“Obviously we don’t get the opportunity to be listed with all of the other restaurants that currently crowd the OpenTable app downtown, but i just couldn’t bring myself to pay what I now feel is basically extortion,” Niketas says.

Eater co-founder Ben Leventhal and wine entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk in 2014 launched Resy in New York City with an emphasis on generating restaurant revenue: The idea was to let diners pay for a coveted reservation slot. In the style of Uber, users are prompted to save their credit card information in the app.

But money doesn’t always change hands: On a recent weekday evening, for example, there weren’t any surcharges associated with a 9 p.m. reservation at Babu Ji or a 10:15 p.m. reservation at Lillia. Still, the specter of getting locked out looms over the process: The app announces how many other users are looking at the same reservation at the same time. If there aren’t any reservations available, users can ask to be notified when there’s a table for the taking – and they have to act swiftly when the text alert arrives.

Users who manage to secure a table will also hear from Resy, which texts ordering suggestions just before the meal, and requests a restaurant rating after it. Leventhal last year told The San Francisco Chronicle that restaurants which score less than 75 percent will be dropped from the system.

While Resy doesn’t balk at stoking anxiety, the interface is more savvy than scary: Little details include a pineapple logo to indicate service charges are included (applicable primarily in New York City) and the ability to choose exactly where in the restaurant you’d like to sit.

“I’m really excited about this system,” says Brooks Reitz, co-owner of Little Jack’s Tavern, where about half of the seats will be available to book through Resy.

Charleston doesn’t yet merit its own entry on the Resy app: In addition to New York and San Francisco, Resy has formally launched in the Hamptons, Washington D.C., Miami and Los Angeles. Nobody affiliated with Resy returned messages, so the company’s planned trajectory in the region isn’t entirely clear.

“The jury is still out on how successful it will be comparatively speaking,” Niketas says.