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Online scalping's next territory: High-end restaurants?

NEW YORK--What if you could get that coveted table for two at one of the hottest restaurants in paying $25 for the reservation?

New York's famed Restaurant Week is fast approaching, which means that black books and BlackBerrys are filling with reservations aplenty. But this year, a new start-up called might put a fork in the system. The New York-based company has a simple model: it's a marketplace for buying and selling reservations at chic, trendy restaurants. It's brand new, and it's already controversial.

 Tablexchange is still small; with only a thousand registered users so far, it doesn't exactly have eBay-caliber activity levels, but it's starting to quietly take off. A table for two on Friday night at Little Owl, a tiny West Village restaurant where reservations seem to sell out in minutes, is on the books for $20, and seats at the chic Italian restaurant Babbo are going for $40.

There  are other Tablexchanges, which also offer reservation auctions in San Francisco and the Hamptons.

"Scalping," the practice of reselling tickets to hot sporting and music events, often at a shocking premium, has been going on for years and has only escalated with the conveniences offered by the Web. It's controversial, and in some areas there are laws and regulations against it.

"I think, realistically, reservations at some restaurants in New York are very scarce, and it's not surprising that some capitalist folks have found a way to take advantage of that," said Ben Leventhal of the popular local restaurant blog Eater. "I don't really see it being that different from scalping seats to the Yankees or the Knicks, frankly."

Tablexchange, which makes money by taking a commission from each sale as well as through advertising revenue, doesn't operate in an auction format, so you won't see people bidding into the triple figures. Additionally, buyers and sellers are restricted to reservations on coveted Friday and Saturday nights (as well as weekdays during Restaurant Week). This may help Tablexchange save face by looking less sleazy, but it also could mean that another, more brazen site could come along and fill that niche.

full article on Cnet

by  Caroline McCarthy

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In The Big Apple