Over the 4th of July weekend, one San Francisco entrepreneur decided to code a website designed to help people get reservations at some of the hottest restaurants in the Bay area.
Sounds great, right? But instead of helping them book tables for free, Brian Mayer's service sells the reservations, which are made under assumed names, without the restaurants' knowledge.
He launched ReservationHop on Saturday and told a few friends about it, but he never expected what happened next.
Twitter absolutely exploded with hate tweets denouncing the startup as the latest in a series of out-of-touch companies catering to the Silicon Valley elite. Outlets like CNN and TechCrunch picked the story up, giving it national exposure, as did Gawker's own Valleywag blog, which derided ReservationHop as "everything wrong with SF."
Valleywag reports that the site charges $5 or more per reservation, giving you the correct alias to use at your restaurant of choice after you pony up. On Twitter, many argued the startup is harmful to restaurants (or at least a parasite on their business), because it charges for a service that is otherwise free.
Mayer took to his blog last Saturday to defend himself.
"The initial criticism has been about the fact that restaurant reservations are free, and I shouldn’t be selling them," wrote Mayer. "First off, reservations aren’t free. Restaurant tables are limited, in high demand and people wait a good long time as walk-ins to get them. Reservations take time and planning to make and the restaurant assumes an opportunity cost from booking them."
Mayer went on to say that he thinks charging for reservations will reduce no-shows and help restaurants in the long run, adding that he personally cancels unsold reservations to avoid costing the restaurants business.
He also pointed to two New York startups—Killer Rezzy and Zurvu—that offer similar services. The key difference is that those companies partner with restaurants to offer reservations, and share the revenue earned from the reservation fees.
Now, in response to the uproar, Mayer is shifting his site's strategy to something more in keeping with those NYC services. He announced in a follow-up blog post that ReservationHop will "work with the restaurants directly to cut them in on the deal."
Only time will tell if this quick pivot can heal the young startup's image. But with the anger also being vented at startups that sell public parking and taxi alternatives that employ surge pricing, it's likely that ReservationHop probably won't be the last SF startup to earn the internet's ire.