Tired of refreshing Resy, only to find the city’s hottest restaurants already booked out? A new app aims to outwit, outplay and outlast the popular booking system to give “everyday diners” a fighting chance of trying Don Angie’s lasagna. 

Tarek Arafat (left) and Frank Besson (right) are two New Yorkers who got tired of missing out on the city's hardest-to-get reservations.
Tarek Arafat (left) and Frank Besson (right) are two New Yorkers who got tired of missing out on the city’s hardest-to-get reservations. Photos supplied (background K8/Unsplash)

Hooli Notify [NOTE: they changed their name to TableOne in August 2023] — a brand-new app currently in beta-testing mode from New York-based developers Tarek Arafat and Frank Besson — was born out of the all-too-common problem of trying to snag a table at the city’s hottest restaurants, only to find that slots have been snapped up by bots and reservation scalpers, Tarek told W42ST.Opportunity and access to high-demand restaurants in NYC are not equally distributed — they are instead reserved for a person with connections and status rather than the everyday New Yorker.” 

“Many restaurant management groups use exclusive hotlines for reservations that only a limited number of people have access to. Member clubs make you ‘apply’ to get on their platform and leverage their partnerships with high-demand restaurants, charging you hundreds upfront in the form of a minimum spend for a table, per person, and bots book reservations in milliseconds and then resell them online for an obscene amount of money,” he added. “The everyday person, whether they know it or not, is a bottom-of-the-barrel consumer in the high-demand NYC restaurant space — and for those that love food and want to experience the city, that’s messed up. We maintain that reservations at these places should be available and equally attainable for everyone.”

Using proprietary technology, Hooli delivers real-time notifications to prospective diners, who are able to select from a roster of popular spots and refine them by day, time and number of guests. Diners then book their table directly through OpenTable or Resy, which Tarek told W42ST was part of the team’s vision. “We wanted to make sure tables were still booked through Resy/OpenTable properly to maintain the integrity of their customer funnel, “said Tarek. “They built awesome platforms and we’re not here to compete against their business. We’re here to drive more traffic to it.”

Reception to the system has been enthusiastic, with Reddit users expressing their interest in finding a way to secure a hot table without waiting by a computer for reservations to be released, signing up for an expensive credit card, or bracing for an hours-long walk-in wait. Some commented that Hooli still runs the risk of being taken over by an unstoppable wave of pay-to-play reservation bots, a challenge that Tarek says he hopes won’t come to pass. “I’m not afraid of bots engaging with the platform because every user on the app has to sign up with a valid phone number –– it’s the best way we can ensure that the users on our platform are real people,” he explained. “As far as scalpers on our app, all I can really say is that I hope everyone uses this app with integrity. It’s designed to level the playing field for the everyday foodie, but I do understand that scalpers could become an issue. If they are using us to grab and resell reservations, they at least have the same chance of securing a reservation as everyone else on our platform. Establishing parity in getting a reservation is what we strive for and is a big reason for why we built Hooli in the first place.” 

The app currently features a select list of some of the city’s most-requested spots (none yet situated in Hell’s Kitchen!) — “Our restaurant selection is completely crowdsourced,” said Tarek, adding that they began with restaurants that the team wanted to visit and added listings upon user request, expanding and rotating the selection based on the rise of newly-popular restaurants. “Our restaurant selection is also designed to be totally dynamic, which I believe is a pretty fun and unique feature to our platform,” he added. “Sure, you’ll always have your staple restaurants on there (4 Charles, Carbone, etc.), but fun, new places pop up weekly in NYC –– and by monitoring our users’ alert trends, we typically know exactly which places to swap out and in.” 

They plan to expand to other foodie cities like Miami and LA, but the first priority is to build a loyal community of New York users, said Tarek. “The food space is so community-driven and building one takes a good amount of care, patience, and time,” he added. “Hopefully, one day Hooli can be something that helps people across multiple cities around the world — but to get there, Frank’s and my plan is to continue to be agile and actively listen to our users to build the best communities we can.” 

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