Are the hottest restaurants impossible to get into? It’s complicated

Welcome to Hot Dish, a column that takes a close look at one prevailing restaurant trend each month. Today, it’s all about reservation madness.

In May, The Wall Street Journal  kicked off months of hand-wringing and speculation about getting into restaurants with the article “Why Is It So Hard to Get a Restaurant Reservation Right Now?” Other publications such as The Atlantic, Bon Appétit, and The New York Times quickly echoed the question. 

Reservations aren’t new, and neither is the notion of the buzzy or status-symbol restaurant. But the dining landscape has changed, and it’s clear that restaurants and diners alike are in a period of growing pains as we all adjust to a new normal. But are reservations objectively harder to get right now? Well, it’s complicated. 

Yes, demand is up—OpenTable alone has seen a 20% increase in seated diners from 2021 to 2022.* At the same time, restaurants are still dealing with staff shortages and rising costs, leading many to reduce hours or close on historically slower nights. The math tracks: more people want to dine, and there are fewer days to book, so things start to feel tight even at restaurants that typically have good availability.

To add to that, the restaurant hype machine has never been more productive — there are more guides to dining than ever before (guilty!), and a single viral TikTok review can take a restaurant from neighborhood gem to international hotspot overnight. Not to mention the cottage industry that’s popped up around this idea of scarcity, with the rise of private clubs and NFT sales that promise exclusive access to members-only restaurants, or regular access to hard-to-get reservations. 

But a careful read shows things aren’t as bad as they seem. The articles tend to focus on critical darlings in cities like New York and Los Angeles while diners in a city such as Austin can get into a lauded spot like Canje — a 2022 New York Times and Bon Appétit best new restaurant winner — with as little as a day’s notice.** If you do live in one of the cities feeling the strain, you can always try nabbing a bar seat or setting availability alerts for earlier tables. 

Another key to a good meal? Look beyond the trend cycle. Restaurants that have matured from hot new openings to city stalwarts, such as San Francisco’s Anchovy Bar or New York’s Wildair, are great bets for incredible meals that don’t require months of planning to try. 

And when you can’t get into your top choice, just remember: there are 50,000+ restaurants on OpenTable, so there’s always going to be a seat with your name on it. 

*OpenTable looked at seated diners from online, phone, and walk-in reservations from January 1 – October 31, 2022 and compared it to the same range in 2021.

** At the time of writing.

Marion Brewer is a content strategist at OpenTable