It’s Friday morning and you finally got a date with the woman from your spinning class. Too bad it’s too late to book a table at one of the City’s better restaurants. Across town, Mark just got dumped, leaving him with a table reservation but no date.
That scenario is the founding premise of TableXchange, a marketplace to buy and sell restaurant reservations. The NYC-based startup is the brainchild of bankers turned Web entrepreneurs Gabriel Erbst and William Geronimo. The two teamed up with developer Dwight Lee and launched the site late last summer. The initial site covered New York City and The Hamptons; San Francisco was added just this month.
The TableXchange marketplace lets individuals post the restaurant reservations they can’t use, selling them to people who need last-minute reservations at hard-to-get-into dining establishments. Individuals register with the service; they must have a PayPal account, which is used to process payment. Restaurant reservations can be priced from $10 – $40, and as you’d expect TableXchange takes a piece of the transaction. And since an individual willing to pay upwards of 40 bucks to get a table at a top restaurant is likely an attractive consumer demographic, the company expects that they will have advertising revenue as their membership grows.The founders have taken great care to mitigate fraud. Buyers are directed to call the restaurant to confirm the reservation and payment is not processed until the first business day after the reservation, giving the buyer time to dispute the transaction if need be.
“The benefit of the doubt always goes to the buyer,” Erbst says, noting that the company’s “zero tolerence policy” for fake reservations will ban fraudsters (identified by their PayPal account information) from the site. Further measures — no one can sell more than three reservations at any time, no restaurant can be listed more than three times per service – are designed to prevent anyone from going into the reservation brokerage business, using TableXchange as a platform.
It’s early days for TableXchange.com. They’ve attracted about 1,000 registered users, mostly in the New York area, with very little promotion. The San Francisco listings are very sparse. But then, if you want a table for two at the Slanted Door this Saturday night, TableXchange is likely your best — and only — bet.
Erbst was cautious when talking about the business success of the site to date. Of the inventory of listings, he claims that “almost all of it” sells. With fewer than 50 listings on the site currently, that’s not a big business, at least not yet. Erbsts says the company plans to “grow organically,” but could seek funding in order to roll out to more cities.
Unlike OpenTable or BookingAngel, which count on a consumer that plans ahead, TableXchange is for the last-minute diner, the busy person who’s schedule is in a constant state of flux. The concept is a strong one that should appeal to the foodies in major markets beyond the initial targets. With a very little bit of marketing help, TableXchange could find some traction.