Reuters/Toru Hanai

Table for two? It's on.

Online reservations are supposed to make snagging a table a breeze, but when it comes to in-demand restaurants, the process is going the way of stock trading and concerts on Ticketmaster: Pretty soon you’re going to get beaten by bots, big time.

Diogo Mónica, a security engineer at payment start-up Square, was trying to find a seat at the popular San Francisco eatery State Bird Provisions on the restaurant reservation site Urbanspoon. Tables can be booked up to 60 days in advance, with new time slots opening up every day at 4:00 am. By 4:01, they were gone. “It quickly became obvious,” he wrote on his blog, “that these were reservation bots at work.”

To retaliate, Ars Technica reports,  Mónica wrote his own computer code to check for available reservations and grab them on his behalf. “You fight fire with fire,” he said, “so I made my own reservation bot.” At last, a table was his. He then released the code online to level the playing field—at least for anyone who knows how to run a ruby script.

It’s a great story and a win for Mónica, but it’s not exactly a happy ending. With bots fighting bots, we’re setting ourselves up for a world in which the hottest restaurant reservations can only be purchased from scalpers at exorbitant prices. Mónica joked on Twitter that he will have to take a page from high-frequency traders for the next round of battle: Now that everyone has access to his code, he’ll have to set up shop as close as possible to the reservation system’s server to beat everyone else by a microsecond or two.

This post originally appeared on Quartz, an Atlantic partner site.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A small accessory dwelling unit—known as an ADU—is attached to an older single-family home in a Portland, Oregon, neighborhood.
    Design

    The Granny Flats Are Coming

    A new book argues that the U.S. is about to see more accessory dwelling units and guides homeowners on how to design and build them.

  2. Environment

    Britain's Next Megaproject: A Coast-to-Coast Forest

    The plan is for 50 million new trees to repopulate one of the least wooded parts of the country—and offer a natural escape from several cities in the north.

  3. Police cars outside the New York Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City
    Life

    The Great Crime Decline and the Comeback of Cities

    Patrick Sharkey, author of Uneasy Peace, talks to CityLab about how the drop in crime has transformed American cities.

  4. The White House is seen reflected during a rainy day in Washington, D.C.
    POV

    The City That 'This Town' Forgot

    Washington, D.C., is home to a huge concentration of reporters. Why do they miss the stories happening in their own city?

  5. 1970s apartment complex in downtown Buffalo
    Equity

    The Last Man Standing in a Doomed Buffalo Housing Complex

    After a long fight between tenants and management, John Schmidt is waiting for U.S. Marshals to drag him out of Shoreline apartments, a Brutalist project designed by Paul Rudolph.