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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Daily Report: Automating the Search for a Last-Minute Reservation

It can require stamina to land a table at New York’s great restaurants, but what few diners realize is that procrastinators often have access to the best seats.

Cancellations and V.I.P. tables are often released into the reservation system at the last minute, for those prepared to call or search online. A handful of new services are finding ways to eliminate that step altogether, automating the process so that people don’t even need to search for open seats. Instead, diners are alerted to those openings â€" in some cases, in real time, Tejal Rao reports.

In July, Jason Davis, a New York entrepreneur and software engineer, started Last Minute Eatin’, an automated Twitter account that alerts diners to available reservations on OpenTable. The idea sprang from his own reluctance to plan ahead.

“I love New York City restaurants and I hate keeping a schedule,” he said. Every few minutes, the program runs through the 1,000 listings with the greatest number of user reviews (regardless of whether they are positive or negative), along with listings for new restaurants that he picks. It then sends alerts on a few good finds (like a 7:30 p.m. table for two at the Dutch in SoHo) every 20 minutes, along with a link to book the table.

Mr. Davis is not the only entrepreneur who sees potential hidden in OpenTable’s vast trove of data. Reed Kavner, a product manager at the crowdfunding Web site Piggybackr in San Francisco, began Rezhound in January after several unsuccessful attempts to eat at Nopa. The free service allows users to choose specific restaurants and dates of interest across the country, then alerts them by text or e-mail the moment a table opens up. (In Chicago, Mr. Kavner said, requests for Stephanie Izard’s restaurant Girl & the Goat account for almost all use.)