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Why reservations are so tough at State Bird Provisions, SF?

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  1. The update says Urbanspoon denies that such hacking occurs, and what I've personally observed from the table patterns doesn't support that story either, unless something changed dramatically in the last week (I just dined there a few weeks ago). It's a pain to get a table, but I've always been able to do it, without a bot.

    4 Replies
    1. re: dunstable

      I am not under the impression the article is implying that there is hacking going on, but I do think there is something to this bot story. Recently I was on Opentable and browsed the reservations in San Francisco. I then refreshed the screen a couple of times in a row and saw a Frances reservation pop-up. I immediately selected it and the system responded that it was not longer available. I continued to refresh and saw two more come and go instantly. I thought it was a system glitch but after reading this article with regards to SBP, I had a very similar experience with Frances just a few weeks ago on Opentable.

      1. re: Scott M

        There appear to be plenty of Frances tables on Opentable right now.

        Again, I can only speak of my experiences with SBP on Urbanspoon, but it's not like the tables all vanished instantly when I made my reservation a couple of months ago. There were still plenty tables left after I'd finished making my reservation.

        1. re: Scott M

          ". I continued to refresh and saw two more come and go instantly."

          Depending on the time of day, some of this may have been manipulated by the restaurant itself as they decide which tables to make available, balancing it with walks in, phone ins, and then still worrying about image, and appearing like an exclusive reservation. It just takes a neurotic or bored host, owner, manager type. We've all seen them hovering in front of their Opentable screens. It can also be explained by a mistake in the day, which they caught right after and fixed.

        2. re: dunstable

          They can deny it all they want but it is going on. It's a very simple script you can run that will tell you when a reservation becomes available on either opentable or urbanspoon. The more complex thing to do and the more problematic issue is when you create a bot to make the reservation for you. To play devil's advocate how is running a script that tells you when a reservation is available the minute it is any different than folks who use a concierge, celebs who have their PA's or publicist call and get a same day table or industry folks who get tables when they are in town?

          It's not that hard to get a reservation at SBP even without some code, plan in advance, don't go on weekends, eat later or forget all that and just chill out and wait.

        3. SF is full of sheeple. If a place is trendy, it's full, even if the food is par. Not that I'm knocking SBP, heard it's good, but it's location--right smack dab in the middle of the confluences heavy Sheeple concentrations would do it.

          10 Replies
          1. re: hankstramm

            Bull.

            Everyone I know, for years and years, says, "Hey, let's do dim-sum style but serve great french/continental/modern food."

            It is a fun place, and it deserves the attention, and lots of people want to sample it at least once - it's unique in the world right now.

            It's also got a great price point and an infectious buzz inside.

            Harshing on the eating populace of SF is not required.

            1. re: bbulkow

              I'm with BBulkow on this. SF on the whole doesn't deserve this sort of abuse.

              1. re: bbulkow

                "Everyone I know, for years and years, says, "Hey, let's do dim-sum style but serve great french/continental/modern food.""

                Actually, they probably just said "we're doing eclectic small plates".

                1. re: sugartoof

                  Sloppily written on my part.

                  I've had - for decades - conversations like "wow, this cart thing works so well. You make a batch and it just goes, and as a diner you get in and out faster, with a nice balance between what the kitchen wants and what the diners want. Too bad only one kind of food - Chinese Dim Sum - uses carts. I wish there were other kinds of restaurants / cuisines that used carts".

                  Dim sum can be done without carts (and there are benefits).

                  Arguably, a sushi-boat establishment is more like carts (the carts are really small and come by frequently). Although the sushi at these places is never top notch, I sometimes have a yen for them, for a quick bite. I do remember some other conveyer belt places.

                  I'm surprised more restaurants - post State Bird - aren't doing carts, given the popularity of SBP.

                  1. re: bbulkow

                    It's the dream, isn't it? Until the next day when you realize the combination of what you ate.

                    I'm also not sure it matters if you offer premade food from a buffet, an automat, or a cart, the small plate thing is a mixed bag, and typically inflates the bills if you're looking for a full meal, while also abusing the kitchen staff. Tapas, or lately, Izakaya style dining as a trend cuts the portions for profit in a way that's problematic and it's so rarely done right. Places like Andalu couldn't survive in SF, but the concept is thriving in NY, and other cities. I personally try to avoid it. SBP going high end tasting menu was clever, and makes much more sense than another variation on a Slider or worse, entrees served in hors d'oeuvre portions. As for SBP, they would probably be a better restaurant if they skipped the carts.

                    1. re: sugartoof

                      Andalu lasted quite a while - at least 10 years, right - so it's hard to list that as an example of a failure.

                      The benefit I saw at SBP, contrary to your suggestions, was creating 20 of the same dish at the same time. Dishes that couldn't be done short-order. Like some kind of mac-n-cheese-cassoulet thing, where the chef had 20 of them in cast iron pots for an hour.

                      Izakaya focuses on grilled, fried, necessarily so.

                      SBP was, in my visit, at a very attractive price point. They seemed to be pouring savings into better ingredients - like lots of lobster.

                      I hear why you don't like it, but I do. I am simply not interested in "mains" anymore, and rarely order them. (of course, I did last night, but it's really the last time I remember in the last few months). The trifecta of veg-starch-protein. It's hard to excersize portion control, hard to even get my GF to go out to eat dinner. We go out to enjoy different tastes, not to acquire calories at the cheapest possible rate.

                      To me, this is all a little silly because we've had appetizers on the menu forever, and decades ago it was often better to order three apps, or occasionally 2 apps and a main. Now the app section is called "small plates" and you can only really judge portion size by trying to factor in ingredient cost and menu price.

                      1. re: bbulkow

                        I could be wrong but I don't think Andalu always had the same format. Either way, they're not there now, and don't get much credit, but I still can't argue with a 10 year run.

                        Anyway, I'm glad we agree it's not a revolutionary thing. Of course some people like it, I'm not arguing that you shouldn't. I don't think the benefits of portion control are really valid. People tend to go home hungry even if they liked the food, or they go hog wild and go overboard and would have been better with the entree menu. You eat out a lot, but many people have different expectations of a restaurant meal. Likewise this idea you're getting better value isn't very valid, even though I fully agree about most of the SBP pricing... but most meals are going to add up to what they would have paid for an entree, if not more.

                        I'm very fond of the brunch at a NY place called Stanton Social Club, because it's the dream brunch where you can eat french toast and eggs benedict, and then pile on chicken and waffles and donuts. Disgusting when you think about it. It's not a reasonable priced brunch, though the individual dishes are (or were) cheap. Waiters would suggest 5 dishes to represent a meal. There is always someone who would still try to order 1 dish, and then take very small bites, confused by the experience.

                        You're right, that it allows a Chef to fire up multiples of an item (not that different than tasting menus with limited seating times) but that's limiting as well, because of the economy of it, and reality that they can't make a challenging dish if it's going to go cold on a cart. SBP does make their share of challenging dishes, but they too have to rely on comfort themed dishes using chips, mac-n-cheese spin offs, pancakes....it's not sliders, or mini corn dogs, but it's like there's an unwritten rule you can't do the concept without expecting your patrons to regress to the days of appetizers and a kids menu.

                        1. re: sugartoof

                          I agree that small plates aren't about value for calories. It's often the opposite. If I get more taste, and more "prep time", I expect to pay more. Anyone who expects otherwise gets a rude awakening. I would rather eat less, go home not-stuffed, and have memories of sharing more complicated dishes.

                          Yes, that's a difference in my expectations. I will, honestly, stop for tacos on the way home if I'm hungry.

                          This is very much my experience eating in china, where they keep ordering until you say uncle, even at casual places after work. It's a good system.

                          If you want to talk about a failure in this area, I think I'd invoke Plum. That's the restaurant I love so dearly, with very, very complicated conceptual tweezer food available in small bits without committing to a tasting menu. They weren't able to sustain that too far out of the honeymoon period, and there's a long thread even here on CH about the food being too unapproachable, why can't they just have mains.

                          I don't think anyone asked for a kids menu at Plum, but ... the concept was there.

                          1. re: bbulkow

                            "I don't think anyone asked for a kids menu at Plum, but ... the concept was there."

                            The concept initially being a menu portioned by food groups and "snacks". Remember the popcorn fig roll ups or Mac and Cheese fries? Got to have the Popcorn and Pork Rinds in there. And Butterscotch Pudding, and Graham Cracker cake for dessert.

              2. re: hankstramm

                So where are the masses more discerning?

              3. Certainly weird things go on with OpenTable and maybe Urbanspoon.

                Last night I attempted a reservation for 2 for exactly 2 months in advance at French Laundry. Watching a network time clock good to a tenth of a second, I submitted the reservation within 2 tenths of a second after midnight and was told I was too early. Within 3 seconds I resubmitted and the message said nothing was available for the whole day. This is not the first time this has happened.

                Trying to call TFL gets a busy signal. This kind of nonsense is not worth it to me. Whether it is caused by bots or withholding reservations or what, it is not the way to run a business.

                5 Replies
                1. re: Thomas Nash

                  You're getting busy signals at TFL because it's literally the most sought-after restaurant reservation in the world. How Opentable handles processing reservations at a tenth-of-a-second after midnight is Opentable's issue.

                  Seems the TFL is doing just fine the "way they run a business".

                  1. re: mikeh

                    Seems to me that how a restaurant handles its reservations is just as important an aspect of its service as the service it provides after you step through the door. You wouldn't be very happy with a busy signal from an airline or hotel, would you? Staffing its phones inadequately shows a corporate like disrespect for its potential customers, The on-line reservation situation is not OpenTable's issue. OpenTable is handling things precisely the way TFL wishes.

                    Even if TFL reservations were the most sought after in the whole wide world, which I doubt (given certain places in Denmark, Spain, France, Japan, Singapore, and China), that's no excuse for their horrible pre-meal service.

                    1. re: Thomas Nash

                      How many phone lines would be appropriate for them to have when they fill all tables within 10 minutes of opening even with the line(s) they have? It isn't going to increase your chances any - in fact, it might be even more awkward if, say, they had 100 lines and you get through at 10 a.m. but still weren't able to get a table.

                      As for Opentable, it sounds like it was a technical issue with the way Opentable handles fast-moving reservations. I doubt TFL ordered Opentable to screw with people's heads by allowing them to enter in reservation info. and then telling them it's too early. It does sound like 100% Opentable's IT issue, not "exactly the way TFL wants it"

                  2. re: Thomas Nash

                    Open table only gets a few tables for TFL, I think it's 2 or 3. It's far easier to call and get a table.

                  3. Opentable reservations are available directly from state bird's website about 60 days beforehand. I've read that they tend to open up on Fridays and Saturday nights at 10pm, and sure enough there were spots open for several hours last night starting at 10pm.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: hyperbowler

                      Shh! Let everyone else think these tables are impossible; makes it easier for the rest of us.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        That's actually how I got my reservations, but there were still ones free the old fashioned way for a few hours after. Tablesweep requires that you give your opentable password, which I've since changed, but it's free, will score you a reservation, and texts and emails you when the spot gets reserved.

                        1. re: hyperbowler

                          Actually you don't have to use your OpenTable account. You can make an account separate from it. We provide that option as a convenience--plus, if you have a reservation within 2 hours of another, we can cancel it for you automatically if you link your OpenTable account.

                          Here's the direct link to State Bird (you won't be able to find if from search):

                          https://tablesweep.com/restaurants/13...

                        2. re: Melanie Wong

                          By using Tablesweep, I was able to get a reservation for a party of 2 at 9:30pm last Thursday. I had figured that scooping up a last minute cancellation close to the date would be probably be the source of inventory, and voila, about 30 hours before the requested hour, the confirmation came through. I had left the tablesweep window open during the period and it made more than 12K attempts, checking every 5 seconds.

                          Coincidentally, the founder of Tablesweep checked in the same time we did. I recognized his name and stepped outside to thank him in person for this free service. And we had a brief convo about his new venture, http://www.dinematic.com/ .

                          An exiting customer asked the hostess to make a reservation for two months out. The hostess explained that all advance reservations needed to be made online. She said that the inventory goes on Opentable at 12:01am for the date two months forward.

                          I also chatted with our server about the lines. She said that they make every effort to accommodate everyone who is in line before the opening hour, including seating up till 10p on weeknights. She said that some people hire task rabbits to hold their spot. She also mentioned that the owners have been vigilant about cancelling reservations that they think have been scalped.

                          As with dim sum places, I had been a little concerned that at the end of service, food might be starting to run out or stale. There were only a couple items that disappeared before we could order them. And I was glad to see that the items on the cart could be made to order if there were none left in circulation. For some things such as the garlic (fry)bread topped with burrata, that would be preferable.

                        3. You guys realize this can be coordinated with the Table8 discussion, right?

                          Reservations have value. A LOT of value, sometimes (see TFL). A reservation is an option. They are currently given away for free, and are even transferable. (It is kosher to reserve under another name, or have your "admin" make the res, in the case of a celebrity or reviewer.)

                          Today, reservations are only "paid" if a credit card is used and the cancellation policy is strict. Then, mostly, the option price is "weird" (fixed and not responsive to market forces of a given day, strange cliffs like a 24-hour or 48-hour policy, being "banned" for having too many cancellations)

                          Even if the restaurant tends not to fill up, options can be valuable. However you like to model option value, like black-shoales or cox-rubenstien, they certainly aren't free.

                          Techies exploit this. Tough. If reservations are by phone only, give me a few hours and I'll script Twilio to bang the phones at the right millisecond, and call me if I get through. Designing a non-game-able exchange is very hard and beneficial to few (see the recent Michael Lewis book, Flash Boys, about defending the world financial system from gaming). Gosh, I'm almost fired up to build a site that's - essentially - the "StubHub" of restaurant recommendations. That'll tweak you guys no end - going to a site and seeing reservations for sale.

                          In the Table8 thread, much wailing about how reservations should be "egalitarian" and not privilege either the wealthy or the techie. Last time I checked, we live in a capitalist system, and the expensive seats are in the front, and cheap seats are in the back, not the other way around. If you want an egalitarian restaurant, you'll have to make it no reservations, or maybe use a lottery like Lazy Bear (which can still be gamed). Good for you.

                          Importantly, let's make sure the _restaurant_ makes the money for having a great restaurant people want, and not trader-middlemen. If we evolve to that, where traders get rich and restaurants get the shaft, that'll be a poor system.

                          Until we price reservations, this won't stop.

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: bbulkow

                            Some restaurants use a ticket system, e.g. Trois Mec in LA.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              Of course. Any system where you have to prepay a significant amount (from $100 at Lazy Bear to 100% at a full ticket place) won't have the free-option problem. That's an innovation that solves the problem.

                            2. re: bbulkow

                              I accept that everything you say is true. However, given a choice between fighting for reservations and paying reservation premiums, I'll opt for the former.

                              1. re: dunstable

                                Unless you know a lot about high performance web frameworks, writing undetectable bots, and defeating captchas, you're going to lose.

                                1. re: bbulkow

                                  I disagree. I do know about those things and I still wouldn't use them. Nothing like planning, actually talking to hosts and front of house folks. If it's last minute then go later at night. Also how many times does a person just check once and doesn't get a reservation and then gives up? I'd rather stand in a queue then pay a third party or hack the system.

                                  1. re: bbulkow

                                    I'm not going to win an open-ended price war, either. At least with the current system, it doesn't cost more.

                              2. Sorry for my ignorance, but how does the nightly wait list at SBP work? I read that some people who lined up before they opened but still too late for their first seating were then given a time to come back for their I guess "walk-in reservation"? Do all members of the party have to be present at the time of the wait listing? Could I purposefully line up early to make a wait list reservation? The situation would be that a friend would not be able to get there until after 6 PM, but I could go at 4 PM to line up, so I'd want to try to secure a spot for say 6:30 PM or 7 PM.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: TheOffalo

                                  From what I saw on my one visit, they do not require all of a party to stay. They seat from the line until the first seating is full, then they take cell phone numbers, and give approximate times. Then they call you a little before your spot is opening.

                                  I don't know if they allow you to _request_ a time with a low rank in line.