Restaurant Dining Goes VIP

By: Kaydee Ambas · May 09, 2023 · Reading Time: 3 minutes

First Class Reservations

As the restaurant industry adapts to an ever-evolving marketplace, many establishments are now prioritizing high-spending customers by offering them exclusive access to prime reservation spots — for a price.

For example, Resy (AXP) offers a program providing diners exclusive reservations to 650 trendy restaurants across major US cities. But it’s only available to customers with select American Express cards — including the Platinum Card, which carries a nearly $700 annual fee.

This trend emerged as a way for restaurants to both reward patrons and maximize revenue. By offering the most sought-after reservations to the biggest spenders, these businesses can attract the customers who are more likely to indulge in more expensive menu items and services. But it may make it harder for the average diner to land a seat at the table.

Exclusivity Economy

The trend toward preferential treatment for big spenders is not unique to the restaurant industry. It reflects a larger societal shift toward what some have called “the exclusivity economy.”

Companies across various sectors, including dining, travel, and even health, increasingly offer premium experiences and services to customers willing to pay more for the luxury.

This approach focuses on attracting the “right” customers who can afford to spend more, rather than filling seats or selling products in an effort to maximize profits while cultivating a sense of prestige and exclusivity around their brand.

Table Wars

This trend is great for restaurants, big spenders, and servers getting 20% gratuity on a $1,000 bill. But for the average inflation-squeezed consumer, it’s likely worrisome. In addition to joining reservation programs, some restaurants are even charging reservation fees and requiring diners to prepay for meals.

If catering to high-income customers becomes an industry-wide norm, the general public may find it more difficult to secure reservations at their favorite spots. Some industry insiders express concerns about forcing diners to pay for access in place of what should be a democratic process, likening it to Disney Parks’ (DIS) much-maligned FastPass system.

For foodies out there, this may mean it’s harder to eat at Yelp’s (YELP) 100 best US restaurants. But remember: there’s no shortage of great restaurants out there, and many of the most-hyped establishments were once holes-in-the-wall. All the more reason to track down a cool new dive to patronize.

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