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How to reserve the trendiest restaurants in L.A.

New apps redefine how we make reservations at restaurants.
New apps redefine how we make reservations at restaurants.
(Priya Sundram / For The Times )

Think of it as a game of chance or maybe the ultimate form of one-upsmanship. The prize? Hard-to-get reservations at the hottest restaurants in town.

To help play the latest version of this game, a growing series of apps and websites now allow diners to eschew the old rules of dining, in which you call the restaurant for a reservation, or just walk in unannounced and hope for the best.

If you’re lucky, you can make a reservation with the push of a button, thanks to well-established companies such as San Francisco-based OpenTable, which was founded in 1998 and now seats about 20 million diners at 38,000 restaurants worldwide every month. But highly desirable tables and the demand for all things digital continue to inspire new services, some of which focus primarily on consumers and others that sell reservation and managements systems to restaurants.

For corporate diners and business travelers the answer may be Table8, a San Francisco-based app and website that was founded in 2013. Members, who pay $95 a year, have access to last-minute, set-aside tables at peak times and access (or discounts) to Table8’s list of culinary events. (Nonmembers can make reservations at “generally available” times for free.)

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For some diners, there’s a certain cachet associated with that sort of access. “When they take their clients into Bestia [a downtown L.A. favorite where reservations are always hard to come by] or another great restaurant ... they seem to be connected,” says Table8 co-founder and former Twitter executive Santosh Jayaram.

Table8, he says, is currently in 13 cities, including Los Angeles, and plans to be in 16 by the end of the year. “We currently have over 1,500 restaurants that we recommend across the U.S.,” a spokesperson explains, “and we partner with over 200 of these restaurants to provide last-minute reservations, tickets to dining events and other Dining Club perks.” (In Los Angeles recently , you could make Table8 reservations at, among others, the popular restaurants Alimento, Cassia and Republique.)

Diners can make reservations using the Resy app, which is based in New York and was launched in 2014. Ben Leventhal, a co-founder of both Resy and the food-news site Eater, says Resy provides “the technology for restaurants to sell tickets and charge cancellation fees when they so desire” and charges restaurants a monthly fee. “More than 500 restaurants around the country have replaced OpenTable, or another system, with Resy,” Leventhal adds, noting that in Los Angeles that includes Animal, n/naka and Gjelina, three restaurants with notoriously long waiting times for reservations.

Reserve, launched in 2014 and headquartered in New York, lets you make free reservations at more than 700 restaurants nationwide on the Reserve app or at Reserve.com — or the websites of partnering restaurants. (The list of L.A. restaurants includes Rustic Canyon, Lucques, Wolf and smoke.oil.salt.) The company recently launched Reserve for Restaurants, a table management system, which “competes directly with OpenTable,” according to a company spokesman. Both companies charge restaurants a monthly fee for access; OpenTable also charges a fee per diner, a source of unhappiness among many restaurateurs.

Velocity, which was founded in London in 2014, has positioned its app for a high-roller market. Users can make reservations for free; restaurants, in turn, pay a small transaction fee per booking. At some restaurants, you can use the “V-Pay” feature, which will automatically charge a credit card on file, allowing you to forgo the wait-for-the-check portion of the meal.

Velocity partners with more than 1,100 restaurants in five cities, including Los Angeles and London, and the company hopes to expand to about 30 more in the next three years.

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San Francisco-based Yelp got into the reservations business when it acquired SeatMe in 2013, and today you can make reservations at about 4,000 restaurants nationwide. The reservations are free, but participating restaurants pay a fee.

Lee Maen, one of the founding partners of the Innovative Dining Group — which includes the L.A.-area restaurants Roku, Sushi Roku, Katana, Robata Bar and Boa Steakhouse — says his organization uses Table8 and Velocity, among other services. “We use OpenTable,” he says. “We have no choice. The masses love [it].” But, he adds: “There are a lot of start-up [apps] and a lot of people hitting us up. We pick the ones we think have a good idea and will act as a testing platform for them.”

Of course, just because you have a reservation doesn’t mean you’ll show. Some restaurants now require a credit-card number and will charge a fee if you cancel. Others, including chef Curtis Stone’s Maude and Trois Mec, the lauded restaurant from chefs Ludo Lefebvre, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, have embraced the concept of ticketed reservations, which helps restaurants ease the pain of no-shows.

Last year, Stone’s tiny Beverly Hills restaurant switched to an online ticketing system called Tock, which requires that diners be on standby at 10 a.m. on the first of every month when tickets for the following month go on sale. At Trois Mec, which also uses Tock, tickets go on sale every other Friday at 10 a.m.

On the other hand, if this rush of apps and sites leaves you with a feeling of dizziness or unease, you can always pick up the phone, assuming someone will answer, or just show up. You might get lucky.

Here are nine of L.A.'s hardest reservations. We can’t make any promises, but we can suggest a few strategies for anyone in search of their dream dinner.

Animal

Veal tongue, pickle, apple, salmon roe and black mustard from Animal.
Veal tongue, pickle, apple, salmon roe and black mustard from Animal.
(Mariah Tauger / For the Times )

Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo’s restaurant has been a tough reservation almost since it opened in 2008, for which, depending on your tastes, you can thank the Food Network or the New Yorker. If you try to reserve via the restaurant’s website, you’ll be booking through Resy, which lets you book about 10 days in advance. But you can also walk in and try for a seat at the bar. 435 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 782-9225, www.animalrestaurant.com

Bestia

Bestia, chef-owner Ori Menashe’s downtown restaurant, has been a rough get from the start. If you reserve via the restaurant website, you’ll be connected to OpenTable, which is frequently a frustrating experience because the prime-time reservations always seem to be unavailable — even several weeks in advance. Table8 includes Bestia, but those tables are sometimes unavailable as well. Best strategies? Try for a table at 5:30 p.m. and call to check on cancellations — or walk in and hope for the best. 2121 E. 7th Place, Los Angeles. (213) 514-5724, bestiala.com.

Gjelina

Have you ever driven past Gjelina without spotting a line of customers outside waiting for a table? Travis Lett’s Venice restaurant is a hot spot with hot customers and a hot wait staff, so that line has been standard for most of the six years it’s been open. On the Gjelina website reservations are handled by Resy; Table8 also lists the restaurant. But those lines outside are an indication that dedicated walk-ins do get in, so maybe just get in line. 1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 450-1429. www.gjelina.com

Gwen

Curtis Stone and his brother Luke Stone opened Gwen — a restaurant and a butcher shop — in Hollywood this year, and its place on the hot list was assured from the outset. Like Maude, which Curtis opened in 2014, ticketed reservations go on sale on the first of the month for the following month, although, with 78 seats, you might have a better chance of reserving a table. Feeling lucky? Gwen “absolutely” accepts walk-ins, according to its website. 6600 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 946-7500, www.gwenla.com.

Maude

Venison, Flaxseed, Mushroom, served at Maude restaurant.
Venison, Flaxseed, Mushroom, served at Maude restaurant.
(Ricardo DeAratanha/Los Angeles Times )

Tickets for Stone’s 25-seat restaurant in Beverly Hills go on sale at 10 a.m. the first of every month for the following month — and most of them are purchased in a matter of minutes. If you don’t get a prime-time slot, you might want to rethink your timing: It might be possible (but not necessarily probable) to snag two seats at the bar at, say, 5:30 p.m. 212 S. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 859-3418, www.mauderestaurant.com

Norah

Norah is relatively new, hard to find and wildly popular. The website uses OpenTable and Table 8, and you can book up to two weeks in advance; plan ahead and you might get a prime-time table. You can also walk in, and eat your dinner at the bar. 8279 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. (323) 450-4211, www.norahrestaurant.com

n/naka

Many Angelenos who drive by this unobtrusive restaurant on Overland Avenue near Palms Boulevard have no idea it is one of the most highly sought-after reservations in Southern California. Each dish in chef Niki Nakayama’s multicourse kaiseki meals is exquisite, which may be why there are no apparent openings between now and the end of the year. Reservations are made through Resy, which will allow you to use a “notify” feature, just in case someone changes their mind and cancels. Hopefuls are asked to type in their preferred “start” times. Then you pray. 3455 W. Overland Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 836-6252, n-naka.com

Republique

Republique, chef Walter Manzke’s “super bistro” on La Brea Avenue, opens at 8 a.m. but takes reservations only for dinner. On the restaurant’s website, the reservations tab will take you to OpenTable, where you can book up to months in advance; the restaurant is also listed on Table8. If you’re willing to dine at an early hour — the bar opens at 5:30 p.m. — you might succeed as a walk-in. 624 La Brea, Los Angeles. (310) 362-6115., republiquela.com

Trois Mec

Ticketed reservations for Trois Mec, the midcity French restaurant from Ludo Lefebvre, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, go on sale every other Friday at 10 a.m. If that doesn’t work, check out the restaurant’s Facebook page or Twitter account: sometimes seats become available and are announced on social media. 716 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 468-8915, www.troismec.com.


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