The Life of a Last Minute New York City Restaurant Reservation


There's been a lot of hoopla recently about so-called high frequency restaurant reservation trading. Are computers stealing my reservations? Will I ever get into Per Se again? It's Saturday night, I have a hot date but no table, am I screwed?

Last Wednesday, I launched Last Minute Eatin', a same day reservation service that tweets New York's hottest tables. While the service has only been running publicly for a couple of days now, I've been running it silently for quite some time, and it's been monitoring thousands of restaurants for several months now.

Last Minute Eatin': How it works

Last Minute Eatin' tweets the hottest tables at the hardest to get restaurants in New York. At the start of every day, LME checks OpenTable for same day availability at over 800 of New York's most popular restaurants (specifically, those restaurants with at least 100 reviews on OpenTable). From this set, LME identifies the 100 hardest restaurants to get into: those that rarely have tables available on popular weekend nights.

These "hottest tables" are those listed on the Last Minute Eatin' homepage.

Throughout the day, Last Minute Eatin' continually checks each of these restaurants for availability. And during normal business hours (8am onward), LME tweets one table every 20 minutes.

Which table? Well, the hottest table from the most exclusive restaurant, of course.

A brief tour of a same day New York City reservation

So, Last Minute Eatin' only tweets three reservations an hour, but behind the scenes, LME monitors and analyzes thousands of availabilities every day. How and when are NYC diners booking these tables? Read on.

Let's take a look at when people start booking last minute tables. The following graph shows same day availabilities starting at midnight and running all the way up until dinner time.


Before noon, availabilities are pretty constant, after which they start to drop off all the way until dinner seating begins. LME only tweets "prime" reservations: tables after 7pm and before 10pm. Prime availabilities are fewer and harder to come by.

Fact: 42% of same day reservations are made for tables at "off-prime" hours: before 7pm or after 10pm.

And as expected, there are fewer availabilities on weekends as compared to weekdays.


Fact: NYC restaurants have 45% less availability on Fridays and Saturdays as compared to the rest of the week.

Cancellations occur when a table that was previously unavailable becomes available. Last Minute Eatin' is all about cancellations: one minute a restaurant is booked, and the next minute a table becomes available. Last Minute Eatin' tweets it, you click the link, and the table is yours.

Let's take a closer look at some of the "hardest to get" cancellations: those that were available for less than 10 minutes before they were rebooked.


Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday have more cancellations than any other day of the week. One hypothesis: Wednesday and Thursday are popular nights for business dinners which are more prone to be rescheduled, cancelled, or last-minute scheduled. And on Fridays, people make plans but are more prone to cancel if they've had a long week, etc. This is in contrast to Saturdays, where people generally stick to their plans; availability is hard to come by as are cancellations.

Fact: Although Fridays have relatively low availability rates, they have relatively high cancellation rates.

And let's now take a look at what time of day we'll generally find these "hard to get" cancellations:


Fact: Cancellations spike mid-day just after lunch and then again right before dinner. Surprisingly, cancellations also occur at a steady rate throughout the entire night as well.

High frequency restaurant reservations: the man behind the curtain

And finally, the question we've all been waiting for: how common are short, "hard to get" cancellations compared to longer ones?


Fact: 70% of all cancellations open and close within a period of 10 minutes or less; 44% in a period of 5 minutes or less.

Equivalently, 26% of 10 minute or shorter cancellations are available for more than 5 minutes.

So, are computers stealing your reservations? Has "high frequency restaurant reservation trading" become the norm? Or maybe this phenom just an artifact of old-fashioned, hard-workin' people, hanging out on OpenTable, trying to get a reservation.

Follow @LastMinuteEatin on Twitter today to get your last minute table tonight.

Thanks to Nellwyn Thomas, Joe Clark, and Frank Harris for reading drafts of this.