Inside the rise and fall of #FreeRezy, an online group trading some of the city’s most exclusive restaurant reservations
#FreeRezy has booked around 1,000 restaurant reservations since forming last fall. | Kena Betancur/Getty Images
A visit to Dhamaka takes some advance planning, but until recently, there was a way into one of Manhattan’s most buzzed-about spots that didn’t involve weeks of waiting or constantly checking for a cancellation. For those who were a part of an online group called #FreeRezy, getting a table at the city’s hottest Indian restaurant often came down to four words: “Dhamaka on Saturday please.”
Dhamaka releases its reservations at midnight each day, according to owner Roni Mazumdar. His customers often set alarms for the middle of the night — a month in advance — just to sit in his restaurant, or otherwise try their luck with Resy’s reservation waitlist system. As many as 1,500 people can be waiting for a cancellation each night, he says. Securing a spot can feel like winning the lottery.
#FreeRezy, which amassed and handed out reservations from dozens of Manhattan and Brooklyn restaurants, was a group chat based out of encrypted messaging platform Telegram. Online reservation exchanges have existed before, but this might be the first to offer them for free.
The group comes from Cole, Steve, and Sal, three former investment bankers who asked to be referred to by their first names in this article because they worry about repercussions in their industries. They say the system of making reservations is broken in New York City — even though two of them no longer live in the five boroughs — and thought they had the solution, until Resy shut them down in early February.
According to Cole, the trio was looking to work on a side project last fall when it occurred to them: Getting a hot reservation typically requires advance planning, but with a small breach of Resy’s terms of service, it could be a lot easier. “The value to someone in the group is you don’t have to plan a month in advance,” he says. “People in their 20s have busy schedules.”
Cole says the group has manually booked more than 1,000 restaurant reservations over the last three months. They search online for when restaurants drop their reservations, set alarms throughout the day, and book several tables at once from multiple Resy accounts. On January 30, the last time #FreeRezy posted before it went dark, its founders dropped more than 70 reservations in a single day. Most reservations fell between 7 and 9 p.m., and in-demand tables at Michelin-starred restaurants like Cosme and Le Bernardin were up for grabs, as was a four-top at TikTok darling Saint Theo’s.
“We had a daily calendar,” he says. “When I’d wake up at 6 a.m. every morning to book reservations, I knew what was coming up that day.”
#FreeRezy launched with just a few members in late October,