Ticket to dine

High-end operators are having guests prepay for meals, and experts say it’s just the beginning.

Ninety-five percent of customers who book a restaurant table show up to dine. That leaves five percent who don’t. For some restaurants—particularly high-end small-format houses—those people are a problem. That’s why, instead of taking reservations, some are using ticketing systems whereby consumers purchase a ticket to dine days or weeks before they visit the restaurant.

“We need to know exactly who is coming in,” says Krissy Lefebvre, director of marketing for Trois Mec in Los Angeles. The restaurant has used ticketing since it opened last spring because it has only 28 seats, and a cancellation by a table of four could mean the loss of around 15 percent of a night’s revenue. “[Over the long run], that would potentially put us out of business,” says Lefebvre.

Nick Kokonas and Grant Achatz caused a stir in 2011 when they opened Next (the follow up to Michelin-starred Alinea) in Chicago with ticketing only. The goal was to eliminate no shows and to provide transparency about what tables were available and when. “All the unknowns are gone,” says Kokonas. “If the food costs are more certain, we can buy better quality ingredients or put the money elsewhere.” That’s an advantage for the consumer in the long run, he adds. Another plus: “It takes away that awkward check dance at the end of meal, because it’s all prepaid,” Kokonas says.

Ticketing has been such a success at Next that Kokonas and Achatz implemented a similar system at Aviary, their upscale cocktail bar. In the past six months, the number of customers ordering the tasting menus at the Aviary has grown from 12 percent to 38 percent, Kokonas says. Nightly guest counts have risen significantly too, and check average is up 48 percent.

Saison in San Francisco tried ticketing when it first opened in 2009, and the lack of a postprandial transaction was one of the upsides. “We really enjoyed the fact that [customers] didn’t get a bill as the last memory in the restaurant,” says owner and chef Joshua Skenes. “It’s more attractive in a sense of hospitality.”

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