For three years, Nick Kokonas’s trio of eating/drinking establishments in Chicago (Next, Alinea, and Aviary) has been using a ticketed reservation system. In this epic piece, Kokonas details why they started using tickets and what the effect has been (emphasis mine):
Our ticket implementation strategy at Alinea was to create a “higher-touch” system than we had previously used at Next. Every customer buying a ticket at Alinea must include a cell phone number where we can reach them. About a week before they dine with us we call every customer to thank them for buying a ticket to Alinea, ask if they have any dietary restrictions or special needs, and generally get a feel for their expectations and whether it is a special occasion. We can, in fact, spend more time (not less) with every single one of our customers because we are only speaking with the customers we know are coming to dine with us. Previously, we answered thousands of calls from people we had to say ‘no’ to. Now we can take far more time to say ‘yes’.
The results on Alinea’s business are staggering. Bottom line EBITDA profits are up 38% from previous average years. No shows of full tables are almost non-existent and while partial no-shows still occur they are only a handful of people per week at most. That allows us to run at a far greater capacity with less food waste and more revenue.
Will be interesting to see if more restaurants adopt this model…I bet a bunch of restaurateurs’ eyes lit up at the 38% increase in profit. But not every restaurant is Alinea and not every restaurateur is a clever former derivatives trader.
The two of them — the spare, driven artist and the comfortable, fluid patron — evoke a modern Michelangelo and Medici, bonded by mutual trust and now locked into a very public artistic endeavor. With Next, Mr. Achatz is operating at a level of creative and financial freedom enjoyed by very few artists and only a handful of chefs in history.
And this line got me more excited than I should admit:
A menu might be designed around a single day — say, the Napa Valley on Oct. 28, 1996, the day Mr. Achatz started work at the French Laundry, where he remained until 2001.
Life, on the Line is the forthcoming memoir of chef Grant Achatz about his early life, his training at The French Laundry under Thomas Keller, the opening of the reigning Best Restaurant in America, and his diagnosis of a life-and career-threatening illness. Somewhat unusually, the book was jointly written by Achatz and Nick Kokonas, his friend and business partner. The newly launched companion web site has more info, including excerpts.
“Chef, you have Ruth Reichl on line two,” one of the reservationists whispered to me as I peeled asparagus. I walked to the host area and saw the light for line two blinking; I grabbed the handle and pushed the button.
After exchanging greetings she spoke up. I was wildly and unexpectedly nervous.
“Grant, I don’t know if you know this, but every five years Gourmet does a restaurant issue where we rank the fifty best restaurants in the country.” I told her I recall seeing it back in 2001, and remembered that Chez Panisse coming in at number one and the Laundry at three.
“Well, the issue will come out this October, and I wanted to call you personally and tell you that we have chosen Alinea to be on the list.” She paused for dramatic effect. “At number one.”
Grant Achatz, Nick Kokonas, and his team are opening a restaurant called Next:
No reservations…you have to buy tickets, like for a play or a ballgame.
Your tickets will be fully inclusive of all charges, including service. Ticket price will depend on which seating you buy — Saturday at 8 PM will be more expensive than Wednesday at 9:30 PM. This will allow us to offer an amazing experience at a very reasonable price. We will also offer an annual subscription to all four menus at a discount with preferred seating.
The menu changes four times a year and each menu will be influenced by a particular place and time (Paris 1912, Hong Kong 2036). A Mad Men-era NYC menu please?