Wondering why it's so impossible to get a table at State Bird Provisions? It's not just all the media fawning. Turns out local tech types have been writing bots to make reservations at the restaurant, making it nearly impossible for prospective diners to get a table—even if they wake up at 4 am, when reservations come online at Urbanspoon. "I love food. This means that I'm bound to compete for reservations at good restaurants with the the hipsters that are native to San Francisco," says Square engineer Diogo Mónica in a post on his blog. So he wrote code that would notify him every time new tables came online, whether at 4 am or when someone made a last-minute cancellation.
But despite cheating the system, even Mónica found himself out-hacked by other reservation hackers:
After a while of running this script I had captured a good amount of data. One day I found myself looking at it and noticed that as soon as reservations became available on the website (at 4am), all the good times were immediately taken and were gone by 4:01am. It quickly became obvious that these were reservation bots at work. After a while even cancellations started being taken immediately from under me. It started being common receiving an email alerting of a change, seeing an available time, and it being gone by the time the website loaded.
Fighting fire with fire, Mónica wrote a reservation bot of his own, which "goes through the process of checking for available reservations (in a given time range) and making a reservation under your name." He's published the code on Github, but imagines it won't work well for long: "With this script I was able to start getting reservations again, but I know that this bot war will continue to escalate." As for the plebes who don't know how to write code to get into the restaurant? Well, too bad.
We've reached out to Urbanspoon for comment on folks hacking the reservations on their site, and will let you know what we hear back.
Update, 1:52 pm: Urbanspoon released the following statement to Inside Scoop: "Urbanspoon's data on State Bird Provisions' reservations do not support the findings reported in Diogo Mónica's post. While we will not disclose data about specific customers, we currently have processes in place to prevent duplicate reservations and combat reservation fraud. Urbanspoon's goal is to give real diners the opportunity to make reservations. We've noticed that many diners will stop at nothing to get a table at the hottest restaurants in town, like State Bird Provisions, so we are constantly working on improving the overall reservations process to give all diners an opportunity to secure a table." Considering that people in our comments and on Twitter have told us they're guilty of manipulating the system, they might want to try a little harder.
· Bot wars: the arms race of restaurant reservations in SF [Diogo Mónica]
· The Gatekeepers: State Bird Provisions' Mary Christie [~ ESF ~]
· State Bird Sustaining Three-Hour Waits [~ ESF ~]