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Looking for a reservation at Bern’s? Get ready to fork over that credit card

The South Tampa restaurant now requires guests to submit their credit card information prior to booking.
Bern's Steak House will now require guests to submit their credit card information, prior to booking.
Bern's Steak House will now require guests to submit their credit card information, prior to booking. [ Times (2020) ]
Published Feb. 28|Updated Mar. 1

TAMPA — Getting that Friday night reservation at Bern’s Steak House will now require a credit card, but snagging that coveted table might also be about to get a little bit easier.

In a big shift from their previous policy, the owners of the South Tampa restaurant announced Tuesday that diners now have to fork over a credit card before securing a booking. The reason for the change, according to a news release from the restaurant group, is part of “an ongoing effort to manage growing concerns around reservations.”

All no-show reservations and bookings canceled within 24 hours or less of the reservation will be subject to a $25 charge per person. The proceeds from those cancellations will benefit Feeding Tampa Bay, the local nonprofit that feeds the hungry and is committed to combating food insecurity in the Tampa Bay area.

Tables at the lauded steakhouse have been notoriously difficult to reserve. Though submitting credit card information wasn’t required in the past, prospective guests had to jump online at midnight in the hopes of getting a table 60 days in advance.

Recently, the system appeared to have hit a snag: Tables were being snatched up within minutes, prompting some to question whether the emergence of third-party reservation apps and online reservation trading forums were making it impossible for regular diners to get a booking. Websites like Appointment Trader allow diners to bid on restaurant reservations at some of the world’s most famous restaurants (including Bern’s), with guests sometimes paying hundreds of dollars to snag a coveted weekend spot.

“While we’ve been blessed with a healthy reservation book over the years, prime-time reservations have become increasingly challenging as of late,” said Bern’s owner David Laxer. “Our team continues to find best practices for accommodating as many reservations as operationally possible, and holding our guests accountable for their commitment to dine is one of many measures we are taking to protect the reservation process.”

In November, the Tampa Bay Times reported on the website Appointment Trader, citing concerns from some restaurant customers who feared the service had been taken over by bots, effectively rigging the game for other diners trying to secure reservations the old-fashioned way.

Related: Why is it harder to get a restaurant reservation in Tampa Bay right now?

At the time, Laxer called the concerns premature and “blown out of proportion,” but said an investigation into the practice was underway.

According to Tuesday’s release, that investigation appears to have shown that some of the concerns might have not been so premature.

“A detailed investigation has revealed that this is user-abuse, with people posing as interested guests who work the reservation system, and benefit from the sale of securing prime-time reservations,” Laxer said, adding that the issue was being “legally investigated.”

As part of the effort to curb scalping attempts, the new policy allows the restaurant’s reservation staff to cancel or decline any reservation that appears fishy — anything that is suspected to have originated from a trade or through an unauthorized third-party website.

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Reservations are still offered on a rolling, 60-day basis and will be released daily at 12 a.m.