Dinner tickets instead of reservations?

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Dinner tickets instead of reservations?

Postby Jenise » Tue Dec 21, 2010 3:04 pm

In last week's TIME magazine, Joel Stein set aside his usual impish, self-indulgent awesomeness and wrote a very interesting straight feature piece about Grant Achatz and his restaurant Alinea in Chicago. If you haven't been following his career, Grant these days is kind of right up there with, or directly underneath, the likes of Thomas Keller and his restaurant considered one of the very best in America.

He is planning another restaurant set to open February 1st (in Chicago, too) named Next. It will have a different menu every three months (that's not unusual) "pegged to a particular place and time. He's starting with Paris in 1906 and then moving on to such pairings as Sicily in 1949, Thailand in the future, and so on." That's very unusual. He's hoping to turn it into a TV show where he travels, explores, tastes and learns. "He says that he needs a new challenge and that chopping vegetables for 10 hours a a day doesn't do it for him anymore."

But I digressed, the really unusual thing--peculiar even--about this new restaurant is the business plan. They won't take reservations. Instead, you'll buy tickets on line the way you do for tickets and sports events. And, like those, if you don't show up? Your bad. No refund. I'm very curious about how that will work. Offhand, it doesn't sound good to me. It sounds touristy and punitive, and though perhaps for some that would elevate any experience to my thinking it reduces a night out to the level of spectacle and that's not why I go out to eat--not that I'm eating at Alinea or its ilk, I'm not. But I just don't think I'd be lining up to buy tickets for a meal out any more than I'd get tickets to attend a taping of Emeril Live. In fact, the last time I had tickets for a meal, it was the absolute rubbish from beginning to end that was a performance of Tony & Tina's Wedding (embarrassing), and the time before that it was a friend's birthday dinner at Midievil Times (more embarrassing).

Even for what Achatz' business partner Nick Kokanas describes as "four star food at three star prices", I have to guess there are a lot of us who would not be interested. When we call for a reservation and they agree to have us, it's a relationship between equals of sorts. They provide a service which we need or desire to partake of. We can make our reses at the last minute, and we can cancel at the last minute if someone gets a headache or needs for some newly-acquired reason to make an earlier night of it. But buying tickets shifts the power. Suddenly it's not about not cooking at home, it's more like going to Disneyland. (And Nick warns, don't even think of asking for any adjustment to your meal to accomodate an allergy or dietary restriction--won't happen at Next.)

Even Ferran Adria and El Bulli, long the hardest-to-get reservation in the world, didn't resort to selling tickets and god knows they could have. The technology and the demand were both there.

Will Achatz get away with it? Would you be interested?
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Re: Dinner tickets instead of reservations?

Postby Carl Eppig » Tue Dec 21, 2010 3:27 pm

I thought it was a very interesting article as well, and also don't have any idea how the ticket thingy will fly.
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Re: Dinner tickets instead of reservations?

Postby Jo Ann Henderson » Tue Dec 21, 2010 3:29 pm

I read this article and found the most interesting part the fact that this guy seems to have beaten tongue cancer. The rest I thought pretentious and a guy who takes himself way too seriously. AFter all, it's just food -- and there are many chefs, culinary experiences and meals that could satisfy and "wow" as well as he, I'm sure. I'll wait for the movie!
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Re: Dinner tickets instead of reservations?

Postby Mark Lipton » Tue Dec 21, 2010 4:37 pm

Jenise,
I've been eagerly awaiting the arrival of NEXT for close to a year now, ever since I first heard of it. I haven't read the article you mention, but I think that the idea of tickets is a brilliant one and a major attraction for me. The incentive for this idea was the amount of manpower Alinea has to spend on booking and reservations and the cost to the restaurant of a no-show. So, his idea is to sell tickets on the Web that guarantee you a table at a specific time and caveat emptor; OTOH, the tickets will sell (last I heard) for $40 per head, service compris. So, the only thing you'll pay for beyond the ticket price is the wine. Me like. Me like a lot. Coupled with the central conceit of the restaurant, I find NEXT to be far more attractive to me than Alinea ever was. As for the charge of arrogance: I don't see it that way; instead, I see this as Achatz's way of avoiding the French Laundry conundrum and at the same time passing the savings onto the consumer.

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Re: Dinner tickets instead of reservations?

Postby Paul Winalski » Tue Dec 21, 2010 11:21 pm

I like the idea of dinner tickets for popular places such as Next (or the French Laundry). If you place a reservation as such a popular establishment, you are denying a place to many other potential clients. If you then cancel the reservation, the restaurant loses the revenue from that seating (unless they can get a walk-in), and other potential patrons are denied the pleasure of dining at the establishment. If you have a ticket, as opposed to a reservation, you're less likely to be a no-show.

I don't know the statistics on just how many patrons making reservations are discourteous enough to blow off the reservations, but I would guess that the number is high enough to be irritating both to the establishments and to other potential patrons.

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Re: Dinner tickets instead of reservations?

Postby Dale Williams » Tue Dec 21, 2010 11:34 pm

Yep, I'm with Paul and Mark. I'd be for a system that basically rewards those who treat commitments as commitments. $ 40 pp? Cool!

If I plan to spend the night at theater or opera, I buy tickets, and if I get a headache or decide to make an early night, then it's on me to find someone to use my tickets. Those of us who are not flighty shouldn't have to subsidize those who want to "keep their options open"
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Re: Dinner tickets instead of reservations?

Postby MikeH » Wed Dec 22, 2010 12:25 am

I have to say I am in agreement with Mark, Dale, and Paul. No problems with this concept whatsoever....and if the result is lower dinner costs, that is a major plus!

BTW, Jenise, if you viewed Tony & Tina's Wedding as dinner :shock: , uh, you got it wrong. That evening was one of the funniest times I have spent in a "theatre" in the last ten years. You didn't grow up in my neck of the woods....but I could really identify with the whole production.....just like, as a former busboy, car parker, waiter, and bartender, I could put the name of a real person to every character in Caddyshack.
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Re: Dinner tickets instead of reservations?

Postby Mike Filigenzi » Wed Dec 22, 2010 2:13 am

I'll pile on a bit and say that the ticket-selling aspect doesn't really bother me, in and of itself. This is not the kind of place where I would make a reservation I wasn't certain of using, so I wouldn't have a problem with paying in advance. That said, it will be interesting to see what sort of scalping will be going on. If he really sells tickets for these types of dinners for $40, I could see people easily turning them around for double that. Maybe more for some particular evenings (Mother's Day, Valentine's Day, etc.). I haven't read the article, so perhaps the tickets will not be transferable?

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Re: Dinner tickets instead of reservations?

Postby Jenise » Wed Dec 22, 2010 4:10 am

Paul Winalski wrote:I don't know the statistics on just how many patrons making reservations are discourteous enough to blow off the reservations, but I would guess that the number is high enough to be irritating both to the establishments and to other potential patrons.

-Paul W.


In the article, Nick is quoted as saying that if two tables of four cancel, there goes their profit for the night. I'm surprised it's that slim a margin, though perhaps it is. A million dollars in profit a year spread over 52 five-night weeks (I don't know how many nights Alinea is open) is achieved by an average of $3850 profit a night. A bit more than two fourtops would yield, I'd think, but not way off.
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Re: Dinner tickets instead of reservations?

Postby Jenise » Wed Dec 22, 2010 4:16 am

MikeH wrote:I have to say I am in agreement with Mark, Dale, and Paul. No problems with this concept whatsoever....and if the result is lower dinner costs, that is a major plus!


The lower cost of dinner wasn't mentioned in the article--I presumed it would be more in line with Alinea's pricing. That it's not and intended to be that low is a BIG factor that would make me rethink my position heavily.

BTW, Jenise, if you viewed Tony & Tina's Wedding as dinner :shock: , uh, you got it wrong. That evening was one of the funniest times I have spent in a "theatre" in the last ten years.


I wanted to love it--that is after all why I went to see it--but perhaps the night we went the crowd was particularly pathetic and the actors were particularly cheesy. Don't know--just know I hated everything about it and couldn't get out of there fast enough. Glad your experience was so much better--I do believe that's possible.
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Re: Dinner tickets instead of reservations?

Postby Jenise » Wed Dec 22, 2010 4:23 am

Dale Williams wrote:Yep, I'm with Paul and Mark. I'd be for a system that basically rewards those who treat commitments as commitments. $ 40 pp? Cool!

If I plan to spend the night at theater or opera, I buy tickets, and if I get a headache or decide to make an early night, then it's on me to find someone to use my tickets. Those of us who are not flighty shouldn't have to subsidize those who want to "keep their options open"


Hey, I'm not flighty. I've kept 99% of the reservations I ever made for anything, and would be very conscientious about calling at the earliest possible moment to cancel something I couldn't attend. It's just that sometimes things DO go wrong at the last minute--and of course Mark provided a lot of background not apparent in the article. Had no idea the price would be that advantageous, for instance, the article doesn't mention that aspect and given Alinea's reputation and the comments attributed to Nick, it did not seem that extreme value was among their intentions. $40 all-in is not a "three star price". Nor had I thought of what they propose within the context of the cost of maintaining a reservation system, a la French Laundry. Mark makes good points.
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Re: Dinner tickets instead of reservations?

Postby Bob Henrick » Wed Dec 22, 2010 12:20 pm

Mark Lipton wrote:Jenise,
I've been eagerly awaiting the arrival of NEXT for close to a year now, ever since I first heard of it. I haven't read the article you mention, but I think that the idea of tickets is a brilliant one and a major attraction for me. The incentive for this idea was the amount of manpower Alinea has to spend on booking and reservations and the cost to the restaurant of a no-show. So, his idea is to sell tickets on the Web that guarantee you a table at a specific time and caveat emptor; OTOH, the tickets will sell (last I heard) for $40 per head, service compris. So, the only thing you'll pay for beyond the ticket price is the wine. Me like. Me like a lot. Coupled with the central conceit of the restaurant, I find NEXT to be far more attractive to me than Alinea ever was. As for the charge of arrogance: I don't see it that way; instead, I see this as Achatz's way of avoiding the French Laundry conundrum and at the same time passing the savings onto the consumer.

Mark Lipton


Mark, how would you feel under this scenario? You have "tickets" to NEXT for you, and your wife, and because it is your sister's birthday you also are treating she and her husband to dinner tonight. On the way home from work, you have a serious "fender bender" and are seriously banged up. Nothing life or limb threatening, but you are sore as hell, and definitely do NOT want to try to go out to dinner, or for that matter, anywhere else. As I read Jenise's description, it is too bad for you, you are out the $180 - $300 with nothing to show for it other than good intentions. I am basing this on the assumption that as reported, if you fail to show up, there will be no refund of ticket price. Count me as a no in this vote.
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Re: Dinner tickets instead of reservations?

Postby Rahsaan » Wed Dec 22, 2010 1:27 pm

Bob Henrick wrote:Mark, how would you feel under this scenario? You have "tickets" to NEXT for you, and your wife, and because it is your sister's birthday you also are treating she and her husband to dinner tonight. On the way home from work, you have a serious "fender bender" and are seriously banged up. Nothing life or limb threatening, but you are sore as hell, and definitely do NOT want to try to go out to dinner, or for that matter, anywhere else. As I read Jenise's description, it is too bad for you, you are out the $180 - $300 with nothing to show for it other than good intentions. I am basing this on the assumption that as reported, if you fail to show up, there will be no refund of ticket price. Count me as a no in this vote.


But how is that any different from buying tickets to the opera, theater, or plane tickets? Last minute problems occur, which is why we can insurance for expensive tickets (trip insurance) or sometimes face bad luck. But why should the restaurant bare the cost? And what is the difference between restaurants, theaters, operas, etc?
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Re: Dinner tickets instead of reservations?

Postby Mark Lipton » Wed Dec 22, 2010 1:47 pm

Jenise wrote:
Dale Williams wrote:Hey, I'm not flighty. I've kept 99% of the reservations I ever made for anything, and would be very conscientious about calling at the earliest possible moment to cancel something I couldn't attend. It's just that sometimes things DO go wrong at the last minute--and of course Mark provided a lot of background not apparent in the article. Had no idea the price would be that advantageous, for instance, the article doesn't mention that aspect and given Alinea's reputation and the comments attributed to Nick, it did not seem that extreme value was among their intentions. $40 all-in is not a "three star price". Nor had I thought of what they propose within the context of the cost of maintaining a reservation system, a la French Laundry. Mark makes good points.


Jenise,
Since much of the discussion has now devolved to pricing, I decided to do some fact checking for my previous statements. Here I believe is the source of my information, and now we can see that the pricing is $45-$75 for five- or six-course meals, pricing depending on peak or off-peak dining. I stand by my opinion that this is a consumer-friendly system, but you all can read for yourselves and see if you agree. In the lead-in Achatz is quoted as saying that Alinea requires 4 full-time reservationists. How much does that detract from the bottom line?

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Re: Dinner tickets instead of reservations?

Postby Jenise » Wed Dec 22, 2010 2:17 pm

Mark Lipton wrote:Jenise,
Since much of the discussion has now devolved to pricing, I decided to do some fact checking for my previous statements. Here I believe is the source of my information, and now we can see that the pricing is $45-$75 for five- or six-course meals, pricing depending on peak or off-peak dining. I stand by my opinion that this is a consumer-friendly system, but you all can read for yourselves and see if you agree. In the lead-in Achatz is quoted as saying that Alinea requires 4 full-time reservationists. How much does that detract from the bottom line?

Mark Lipton


Mark, thanks for the additional informaiton. Actually, $75 isn't much different than $45 to my mind and still reasonable. I had the impression that dinner at Next would be costing two/three times that upper number, and my resistance had a lot to do with that. I appreciate your point of view, though, and could come around to your way of thinking. Especially if I lived close enough to actually go. :)
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Re: Dinner tickets instead of reservations?

Postby Jeff Grossman/NYC » Wed Dec 22, 2010 2:37 pm

Dinner at Alinea is not just food on a plate. It is a spectacle. Tickets seem appropriate. Perhaps they'll use OpenTable as the front end? :wink:

As to the occasional conflict between appointments and Life... c'est la vie.
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Re: Dinner tickets instead of reservations?

Postby Karen/NoCA » Wed Dec 22, 2010 9:57 pm

Perhaps a new concept for food but not for other things. This is much like calling for a reservation for an RV space when traveling. I call the number, reserve a space and they immediately bill the first night to our credit card. If we keep our reservation, the first night is paid for and we pay the balance upon arriving. If we cancel within 48 hours, we receive a credit on our card, if not, we loose it. It is different from the food ticket in that we have 48 hours to cancel.
I can see this concept working back east or in major cities. I doubt this concept would hold here, unless a world class restaurant came to town, which is highly doubtful. :)
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Re: Dinner tickets instead of reservations?

Postby Jeff Grossman/NYC » Thu Dec 23, 2010 2:16 am

Jeff Grossman/NYC wrote:Dinner at Alinea is not just food on a plate. It is a spectacle. Tickets seem appropriate. Perhaps they'll use OpenTable as the front end? :wink:

As to the occasional conflict between appointments and Life... c'est la vie.

OK, I'm going to retract this.

First off, let's have the article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/05/dining/05achatz.html

Now: After a hot discussion in the chat room I have changed my mind. I think that my dinner experience is not like unto a football game. The game will happen no matter who sits where, or even if no one is there at all. But my dinner doesn't actually happen unless I am there.

Also, I think dinner is a social event... I interact with the chef (via the menu, if nothing else), with the wait staff, with the kitchen (sometimes), but the ticketing scheme makes me a mere spectator at my own meal.

I'll agree that I am interested in off-peak pricing, but, mostly, this has the look of a power play: Grant is pushing his fixed costs back onto me. In the 'success' case, all is well -- I plan to eat, and I do eat. It is the 'fail' case that is troublesome -- I plan to eat, but, for some reason, I don't eat. To give up a reservation all I have to do is call the restaurant; to give up a ticket I have to go to Craigslist or Stubhub?!
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Re: Dinner tickets instead of reservations?

Postby Dale Williams » Thu Dec 23, 2010 10:23 am

Jenise, I didn't mean to imply you were flighty, I certainly know better. But a lot of diners are -at a social event this summer I remember someone saying "oh, yes, we meant to try there (new restaurant), and even had a reservation, but we forgot all about it - heard the confirmation call when we got in late that night." Bet that forgetfullness wouldn't have happened if they had paid in advance. It would also eliminate the let's make 4 reservations and then decide at 5 pm where we're going crowd.

Jeff, food costs are small percentage of restaurant costs. You're always paying more for labor, rent, utilities, etc. So for those who show up this should reduce costs a bit and still leave restaurant a good margin. My guess is that this system would just leave to a very small percentage of no-shows, making everything more efficient. It would be interesting to see if they decide to provide some cancellation mechanism (maybe up to a week in advance with a small fee or something), or if totally up to buyer to re-sell tickets if a conflict comes up.

I do buy tickets to charity dinners sometimes, never worried about it. Of course in that case if I had needed to cancel it was for a good cause. But I can't imagine most people wouldn't be able to find a friend to give the tickets to if something came up.
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Re: Dinner tickets instead of reservations?

Postby Daniel Rogov » Thu Dec 23, 2010 10:27 am

I'm with Dale on this. I have no problem with the concept of tickets for a restaurant that I truly want to visit but do believe that those ickets should have a "re-arrangement option" within a certain time period. I would suggest that a limit of 3 - 5 days be placed on those re-arrangements.

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Re: Dinner tickets instead of reservations?

Postby Jenise » Thu Dec 23, 2010 12:30 pm

Mark Lipton wrote: In the lead-in Achatz is quoted as saying that Alinea requires 4 full-time reservationists. Mark Lipton


I got to thinking about this statement while I motored around Seattle yesterday: how is this possible. Four FULL time reservationists? What do they do, sit with you? :)
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Re: Dinner tickets instead of reservations?

Postby Mike Filigenzi » Thu Dec 23, 2010 12:53 pm

Jenise wrote:I got to thinking about this statement while I motored around Seattle yesterday: how is this possible. Four FULL time reservationists? What do they do, sit with you? :)


He doesn't seem to mind employing people. In the article I read about Next, they mentioned a "Crucial Detail designer" who is part of the team.

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Re: Dinner tickets instead of reservations?

Postby Jo Ann Henderson » Thu Dec 23, 2010 1:28 pm

Like I said, seems a bit full of himself. You call. You make a reservation. You show up. You eat. If no shows are a problem, do like the hotels do and require a credit card number for the reservation. If there is a no show, charge a modest convenience charge for each chair reserved and move on. Pre-paid tickets! C'mon, now. And, I am not convinced that $45-75 for a 5-course meal is all you would pay to eat at this restaurant. This is just the admission fee, if it is the spectacle that some believe. The rest of the cost will be presented to you at the conclusion of the meal.
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Re: Dinner tickets instead of reservations?

Postby Jeff Grossman/NYC » Thu Dec 23, 2010 4:12 pm

Daniel Rogov wrote:I'm with Dale on this. I have no problem with the concept of tickets for a restaurant that I truly want to visit but do believe that those ickets should have a "re-arrangement option" within a certain time period. I would suggest that a limit of 3 - 5 days be placed on those re-arrangements.


So... it's just a reservation where you pay first?
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