Ticketing: An Unorthodox Solution to a Common Restaurant Issue

When it opened for service in 2011, Chicago’s Next brought with it something even more inventive than what was being served on the plates. Conceived by chef Grant Achatz as a restaurant that would have a rotating thematic menu, Next has so far explored everything from turn-of-the-century Paris to the street foods of Thailand, to a menu inspired by renowned restaurant elBulli. In that time, Next has also introduced its patrons to the idea of booking a table at a restaurant via a ticketing system, much as you would buy a seat for a sporting event or a film.

An issue that had arisen at Achatz’s previous restaurant, Alinea, was the sheer amount of human hours it took to handle booking tables for customers. Given its popularity, a disproportionate amount of time was spent informing customers that, no, the table you want for tomorrow night at 7 isn’t available, and so on. Another side issue is that with no consequences to canceling, customers would book tables for larger parties that might never show up, creating losses both from wasted materials and from the empty seats that could have been utilized for other customers.

In an exhaustive study, Nick Kokonas, who is chef Achatz’s business partner, writes on the process behind finding the solution to their dilemma, the logistics of pricing, its practical effects and benefits and the challenges of introducing it back up to Alinea. It’s a great peek behind the curtain of an emerging trend in fine dining, as Kokonas uses real-life data from sales to talk about all of the consequences of the decisionmaking process in opening Next:

This is my attempt to outline exactly what we’ve done with restaurant tickets, why it’s interesting, and the results of the experiment… along with real data from our restaurants.  People tend to treat business data as something that shouldn’t be shared, but I don’t really see the harm in openly examining the data.  So the numbers provided are the real numbers from Alinea, Next and the Aviary.

Read his entire post here. (Alinea Restaurant)
Buy cookbooks containing the recipes from the first two cycles of Next (using a pay-what-you-want model) here. (Next Restaurant)