I spent a week in Tokyo back in 2013. Back then, my hotel concierge was able to make all of the reservations I wanted. But I have heard that it is now difficult to do it that way for certain restaurants, which will only accept from certain services. Questions for those who have been recently:
Is this true?
If so, how do you go about reserving hard to get into places? Is there an online service you use?
As a bit of a respectful counterpoint, during my last trip to Japan (Nov 2018), I ended up not relying on the hotel concierge for anything “mission-critical” - that is, restaurants that were a high priority for me and that were hard to get in. So in Tokyo, though we stayed at the Park Hyatt, we only had them make two reservations for us - Sushi Masuda and Dons De La Nature, neither of which is super hard to get in. By way of reference, on my previous trips to Japan (2015 and before), I had 100% used the hotel concierges.
I know we asked them for Namba, and they referred us to an online site (Omakase - see below). Just from reading other online forums, I think the hotels (not just the Park Hyatt, but others such as the Ritz, MO, etc.) are overwhelmed by requests these days. There were noticeable delays in receiving replies, and many times they would just miss my emails, so I would have to send the email again. I’ve heard the Tokyo Station hotel concierge is excellent, so they might be an exception.
Instead of the hotel concierges, I resorted to online booking services. Assuming you’re not looking at Introduction-Only restaurants (e.g., Saito, Matsukawa), I would recommend them in the following order:
They have an excellent list of hard to get into restaurants (e.g., Higashiazabu Amamoto, Sushi Kimura, Ogata, Ginza Shinohara) - and they got us into Sushi Namba Hibiya and Kimoto. The booking fee is, if I recall correctly, 150 JPY (that’s $1.50 USD). I actually don’t know how they make money - I suspect their business model includes some referral fee on the backend from the restaurant. Also, you do not prepay through the service - you pay at the restaurant, which means, in some cases, you may need a wad of cash.
They have a great selection of restaurants, the best website, and excellent customer service. Someone always replies to you within 24 hours, and the communication is really transparent. They got us into Sushi Kimura and Miyasaka. The downside? Reservations are 4000 JPY per person for restaurant. Also, I think my bill at Miyasaka all in (even excluding the Tableall fee) was higher than that of a diner sitting next to us (I sneaked a glance at his check). So you’ll have to do some cost - benefit analysis on your end to see how important it is for you.
They have the largest selection of restaurants, though their selection of the hard-to-get-into restaurants is ok. There are many complaints that the Pocket Concierge price (paid for on the website) is more for foreigners than locals.
They book not only restaurants but also activities. I had a great experience booking a sumo training experience with them on a prior trip, but I wouldn’t use them personally for restaurants. Some have had good experience, while others mention bait-and-switch tactics (" we couldn’t book Restaurant A, how about Restaurant B")?
I also found this article in the below blog (no relation to the writer in any way whatsoever) helpful as a starting point (though, since you are a repeat visitor, I’m sure you’re already familiar with a fair bit of what is written)