Operators at some of Atlanta’s busiest restaurants discovered Wednesday that a website owner was making Valentine's Day reservations at their establishments and selling them online for between $50 and $100 each.
The website, 911reservations.com, has since been taken down, and Georgia’s Office of Consumer Affairs is looking into the matter. Similar reservations offers were also being made through the site for top restaurants in Miami, Napa Valley and New York City.
“It’s a difficult time for restaurateurs and also not a good time for guests,” said Cliff Bramble, co-owner of Rathbun’s, Krog Bar and Kevin Rathbun’s Steak in Atlanta. “For somebody to make reservations like this on the biggest night of the year not only hurts the guest but also the restaurants.”
Bramble said he was alerted to the scam on Thursday by Kevin Brown, general manager at Chops Lobster Bar in Atlanta, who told him that someone had tried to make several reservations at the restaurant under the same name or phone number.
“I sent an e-mail out to about 20 restaurateurs that I know, and within five minutes I had four or five guys telling me they had these names all over their reservation books, from Bacchanalia to 4th & Swift -- all the top restaurants in the city,” Bramble said. “They made anywhere from 10 to 20 reservations at every restaurant.”
Restaurateurs in Atlanta are now combing their overflowing Valentine’s Day reservations books for bogus names and numbers.
“At Rathbun’s, I have at least eight reservations under fake names and at our steakhouse, there are about six of them,” said Bramble, noting that altogether he has found eight different names with three different phone numbers for the phony reservations.
Most reservations, paid through a PayPal account, were $50, but prime times, such as 7:15 p.m. at Rathbun’s in Atlanta, were $100.
An employee at Martin House in St. Helena, Calif., where a Craigslist ad offered reservations for 6:45 p.m. on Valentine’s Day through the bogus 911reservations.com website, said the restaurant was fully booked for the romantic holiday.
"We have desperate people trying to get in," the employee said.
The 911reservations.com website was trying to sell reservations on Craigslist in the Napa Valley, naming reservations between 6:15 p.m. and 8 p.m. at such restaurants as Ad Hoc, Auberge du Soleil, Bistro Jeanty, Bottega, Bouchon, Go Fish, La Toque, Martini House, Mustards, Press, Ubuntu and Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant.
Unlike ticket scalping, in which money has already been paid upfront for the ticket, reservation scalping leaves the eatery with an empty table if the seller hasn’t sold the seats, Bramble said.
In the meantime, if someone has purchased a slot through the website, Bramble said the reservation will be honored, but with a strong statement of disapproval.