Last year research emerged showing the importance of online reviews to the restaurant business. It showed that a slightly higher average rating significantly increased the chances of that restaurant selling their tables. So it’s perhaps not surprising that with the growing importance of online reviews, that there is a growing trend of companies buying fake ones. Indeed, last year Gartner suggested that by 2014 15% of reviews would be fake.
Of course, the posting of reviews is not the only thing in the restaurant trade that’s being done by bots. Over the last few years a growing number of restaurants have opened up their booking systems to the web. Alongside this growth has been the emergence of new bots that will book you a table at your favourite restaurant the very moment one becomes available.
One such spider was developed by Diego Monica . He’d been frustrated by attempts to book a table at his favourite restaurant, so began tracking the online processes behind the restaurants website. He discovered that new reservations open around 4am each day, and that most were taken within an hour. What’s more, most of the prime spots had gone by 4:01am.
“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,” he wrote on his blog. “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 [to receive] an e-mail alerting of a change, seeing an available time, and it being gone by the time the website loaded.”
Obviously he quickly suspected bots were at work snapping up the best tables, so went about building one of his own.
“Bots are the ideal solution because they require no operation from humans. You want a reservation from a restaurant, you tell your preferred times to the bot and it will check for reservation availability multiple times per minute until it gets you the reservations you want,” he said in a recent interview . “In this particular case, bots are actually the only solution because there seem to be other bots at play. Without having one of your own, you are at a significant disadvantage. No human can beat a machine when it comes to these repetitive tasks.”
Such behaviour is far from unique to the restaurant trade. High frequency bot trading has become huge business in the financial world, whilst of course the ticketing industry has long been blighted by bots snapping up gig tickets within seconds of them becoming available.
Suffice to say that most restaurant goers won’t have access to such bots, and certainly won’t have the skills to build one themselves, so it’s inevitable that the restaurant business will begin to fight back against the artificial booking of their tables. It’s unclear at this stage if the bot bookings are being used in good faith or sold on the second hand market for inflated sums, but it seems certain that restaurants will be fighting back. How successful they prove to be of course is at this stage uncertain.