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Prepaid tickets to replace restaurant reservations?

Will reservation sites like Open Table soon be selling tickets instead?

Will reservation sites like OpenTable soon be selling tickets instead?

Would you be willing to prepay for your meal in exchange for a reservation? Would you pay extra for that meal to score a reservation at a choice time?

Diners at Grant Achatz’s newest Chicago restaurant, Next, do just that. Achatz, an innovator in the field of molecular gastronomy, experienced overwhelming success with his restaurant Alinea, which opened in 2005. That success guaranteed instant interest in — and reservation requests for — his latest venture.

To secure a reservation at this highly anticipated spot, guests must purchase advance tickets for prix fixe meals and beverage pairings, pay an 18% tip and shell out a premium for peak times. And, like concert tickets, there are no refunds or cancellations. The restaurant reserves a single table each night for walk-ins.

Consider this from the restaurant’s perspective. Prepayment eliminates the problem of no-shows. Hiring a reservationist is no longer necessary. And by handling payment in advance, tables can be turned more quickly. Restaurants also have the benefit of being able to accurately predict the number and timing of guests, enabling them to staff and purchase food efficiently. From that standpoint, it makes sense.

But, will diners bite? Do you really want to be locked into a reservation? (Yes, the tickets can be resold, but that’s a hassle.) How do you feel about prepaying an 18% tip? At Next, it seems to be working. When I checked the restaurant’s website yesterday, there were no tickets remaining.

What about here in Atlanta? Are there restaurants for which you would happily purchase tickets? What about for certain times (10 p.m. at Holeman & Finch?) or holidays?

–by Jenny Turknett, Food & More blog

23 comments Add your comment

Kirk

September 30th, 2011
12:18 pm

Like the old drug refrain, ” Just say no.”

Atlanta Native

September 30th, 2011
12:37 pm

No restaurant in the world is worth that, but there are enough image-conscious idiots who have to be seen in a certain place and who have deluded themselves into believing that the overpriced food is manna from the gods that the concept might work.

Kirk above got the answer mostly right. It should be an emphatic NOOOOO!!!

Lorielle

September 30th, 2011
1:19 pm

I would. Especially for special meals or larger groups of people. The 18% tip does not bother me at all, I usually tip around 20% anyway (I worked in the restaurant biz in college and I appreciate what it takes to give good service).

I would like to add that I’m definitely not an “image-conscious idiot”. I just love good food… of all kinds. I’m just as happy in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant with tasty and interesting food as in a fine dining establishment. What you won’t find me in is a Chili’s, Red Lobster or Ruby Tuesday sort of place. Ick.

James

September 30th, 2011
1:30 pm

I don’t see anything wrong with this idea. If I’m gonna be making a reservation anyway, why not do it this way? And if it helps keep sustain the restaurant industry and keep good restaurants around, all the better…

BuHi

September 30th, 2011
1:32 pm

This is dumb. Will we now see an arbitrage market spring up to broker “prime” reservations that have been snapped up by scalpers? No offence to Mr. Achatz and his or his food, but people escaped the former Soviet Union and Cuba so that they wouldn’t have to wait and stand in line for overpriced food. Is this our unique, modern twist on that? http://www.realussr.com/ussr/queues/

JimmyZ

September 30th, 2011
1:39 pm

I was okay with it until I got to the automatic 18 percent tip. No way would I prepay that.

observer 1

September 30th, 2011
3:22 pm

Atlanta Native, by image conscious idiots, I presume you mean people, unlike yourself, who have a good job and can afford a nice restaurant?

Lady S

September 30th, 2011
3:30 pm

No way. I would not prepay for a meal like this. Too many chances to loose your money IMO.

FoodFan

September 30th, 2011
3:56 pm

Sounds like something that a handful of restaurants worldwide (French Laundry, El Bulli before they closed) can command – not a place that is “highly anticipated”. This may end up killing this restaurant since people will be looking at everything under a microscope & the slightest slip-up will result in huge bashing.

There’s no place here in ATL that could command this – restaurants fail here if you even have to pay for parking, for god’s sakes!

But, yeah, it totally makes sense for a restaurant. Inevitbaly you will have no-shows, which you can then fill the tables with walk-ins. Great way to ensure a packed house for at least a couple of months for the intrigue factor, but long-term, any sort of small mistake could be killer.

Sydney

September 30th, 2011
4:18 pm

Looks like a great system for them. There will always be people unexpectedly forced to cancel. So they keep the pre-paid cost (including tip), but can re-sell the same table again. Demand is stimulated via the illusion of a table shortage with claims of only one for walk-ins. One vs. none ensures a flow of suckers…er, people…will try, and therefore the cancels can be re-sold. That leaves all the cancellation revenue as pure profit. Higher priced peak demand time cancels? Even more profitable, and not coincidentally, easiest to re-sell. Five stars to whoever created their business model.

Andrew

September 30th, 2011
5:10 pm

Well, the concept of the restaurant isn’t mentioned, which sort of changes things for me. It will change themes every three months. For example, cuisine of 1957 Bankok for three months, and then something else for three months. It’s more like theater. It reminds me of Pomp Duck and Circumstance that was in Atlanta many years ago. It was a circus themed four or five course meal with performances going on around you. You bought a ticket for the whole thing. No refunds. I had a great time, and I’m dying to try Next.

Rodney

October 1st, 2011
1:19 am

Oh I’m totally in. I very much doubt that any restaurant capable of securing reservations in such a manner would leave much to “bash”, so I would feel safe in knowing that my pre-paid rezzie will reap all kinds of tasty benefits.

Also – this seems to be something that would help to keep out the families (yes, I mean children). And I’m ALL for that when dining out.

I guess the only drawback I can see is one of splitting the bill. 99% of the time when I dine out it’s with friends who have the same philosophy as I do – when the bill comes, everyone throw down a card and let’s split it. None of that arguing over who had two Cokes versus the person who ordered three martinis. But with a pre-paid reservation, one person is accountable for the bill (the person who made the rezzie) and it would be up to him/her to get payment from the other diners.

PTC DAWG

October 1st, 2011
10:12 am

Baltisraul

October 2nd, 2011
8:21 am

Jimmy Z…you are so correct. I could handle all but the prepaid tip. “To Insure Promise” (tip) is just that. If you don’t Insure Promise, you don’t deserve 18%. That is determined post meal!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Edward

October 2nd, 2011
11:14 am

I think the “image conscious idiots” are those who frequent a so-so restaurant that charges outrageous prices for mediocre food but is packed each night by those people who only care that they are among other people like them who strive to be seen or to be around “famous” others. Ooooo, I can afford a $15 martini and $20 sushi roll, I’m so beautiful, look at me! Look at me!

Really, is that any better than Applebee’s or Ruby Tuesday?

Ramona Clef

October 3rd, 2011
11:11 am

I like the idea. I particularly like the service included (tip) part. I resent having to assume the job of the restaurant’s management in determining what their employees should be rewarded for their job performance. That’s the boss’s job, not the client’s.

BuHi

October 3rd, 2011
11:27 am

My bad – this system is already in place at one of finest purveyors of quality food and dining experiences: http://www.medievaltimes.com/ Hopefully, Mr. Achatz will step up his game to match this one. Watching a horse drop a load while I’m eating would take me back to my childhood days, eating a sandwich in the barn while waving off flies..

James

October 3rd, 2011
1:07 pm

@Ramona – good point. And the prepaid tip would actually put more pressure on the restaurant to ensure a high level of service – nothing would kill a restaurant faster than diners who feel ripped off by a prepaid tip and lousy service.

PJ

October 3rd, 2011
1:50 pm

I understand the idea behind it, but I would be wary pending the cancellation policy. At Next it appears to be an “all sales final” deal, though you can re-sell. As for the 18% tip – we often tip 20% or a little more, especially at more upscale restaurants with great service. I feel like that is a missed opportunity for those servers to earn some extra money, though I understand it is also a guarantee against getting slighted. I think I would go for a reservation deposit – maybe a non-refundable fee to hold my spot that will then be credited to my bill when I actually show up. It is like what Santa at Phipps does (please, no hater comments on that one) – $15 holds your reservation & then is credited toward your photo purchase. Combined with a reasonable cancellation policy, like up to 7 days in advance for a full or partial refund, I could see something like that working for restaurants with high demand.

Steven

October 4th, 2011
11:00 am

This can only be done for a few unique restaurants in the US. Achatz’s Alinea is considered the best restaurant in US. Maybe French Laundry and Eleven Madison. No place in Atlanta fits the bill.

ansley

October 4th, 2011
2:26 pm

Having dined at NEXT last week after purchasing my tickets in a crazy lottery system back in August, I can say that Mr. Achatz food is worth it. Grant is a genius and his food is by far and away the best I have ever had. He is also a smart business man and this idea works for him because he is the best chef in the country and because it is all about securing a seat at a table in a restaurant that will only be around for a limited time, 3 months in his NEXT restaurant model. After 3 months the concept changes. I have not seen any food of this caliber in Atlanta or any concept this revolutionary. I haven’t seen any dining options that would warrant Atlantans paying in advance for their experiences.

Jenny Turknett

October 4th, 2011
3:55 pm

Ansley — thanks for sharing firsthand knowledge of the restaurant. Good to know that you are still on board with the concept (at Next) even after dining there.

ziza

October 5th, 2011
4:49 pm

i agree with those that say no restaurant in atlanta warrants this. if in the city, i might do this just for the experience especially after the rave reviews it’s received. in atlanta, most definitely not. no restaurant here deserves this.