Skip

Tickets for Restaurants
June 5, 2014 4:14 PM   Subscribe

Alinea was the first restaurant I was ever involved in and our own managers viewed me as an outsider to hospitality – and in many ways rightly so. When I said, “We should just sell tickets,” it was mostly laughed off completely. The attitude was – that’s not fine dining, that’s not hospitality, that’s not soigné. (...) I assumed at the time, about a year before we opened, that I would simply adopt the ticketing software from a theater system, sports ticketing software, or event tickets to use at Next. But it was immediately clear that none of these would work. Restaurants have a very different type of seating template than a theater show or sporting event. None of the ticket software systems met even half of our needs.
posted by un petit cadeau (46 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
commodity trader turns something into tradable commodity. Film at 11.
posted by JPD at 4:21 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


JPD's summary above is actually a bit inaccurate, for reasons discussed in TFA, but it touches upon a great deal of things that are important in our current "social media" driven information climate.

Relevant to MetaFilter's current situation, Alinea and Next decided to roll their own system rather than be tied into OpenTable/Google whatever. (Not to mention that they system they wanted to use didn't exist in the first place)

(There's also a great bit of speculation as Nick notes "I’d bet Google will soon begin the reservations game as part of Zagat ratings.")

Relevant to anyone who is trying to figure out how social media works, he touches on the fact that there are differences between people who call in, people who use the reservation system and the people who snatch up day-of tables via social media. That might be eye-rollingly obvious, but it's interesting to see a restauranteur grok what many in the entertainment industry cannot.

The before/after data from Aviary is killer, too: a great case study on what does/doesn't work on this system.

There's a lot more to it, but as someone who is interested in food, economics and ticketing, this definitely pushed my buttons.

And it'll probably push yours too if you don't jump in the thread to snark in the first comment.
posted by raihan_ at 4:35 PM on June 5, 2014 [33 favorites]


As one of the socially challenged demographic, calling in for reservations is worse than not fun. But not being in the upscale "small, chef driven, limited seating per night, high demand, etc." demographic, not seeing this as a particularly useful corner of the web.

As for snark, let's see if the anti-web-based-chinese-laundry-with-cookies folks drift over.
posted by sammyo at 4:46 PM on June 5, 2014


That video of the tables selling reminds me of watching people try to buy PAX passes. Thank God I live in a town where you can get a table at a nice restaurant without spending the day introducing your clicking finger to carpal tunnel.
posted by selfnoise at 4:54 PM on June 5, 2014


... someone who is interested in food, economics and ticketing

I initially read "ticketing" wrong, and was all ready to go with:

Metafilter: Interested in food, economics and bickering
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:55 PM on June 5, 2014 [17 favorites]


As for snark, let's see if the anti-web-based-chinese-laundry-with-cookies folks drift over.

Alinea has a sister-restaurant called French Laundry in California, which is kind of ironic.
posted by muddgirl at 5:02 PM on June 5, 2014


French Laundry and Alinea are unrelated.
posted by Bovine Love at 5:04 PM on June 5, 2014 [14 favorites]


That was fascinating. (And, yeah, had nothing to do with tradable commodities -- tickets are no more tradable than reservations, and there isn't any kind of auction system involved here.)

What they're doing is either selling tickets for the meal in advance (if all meals are the same price), or charging a deposit in advance that goes against the cost of the meal. That's great for the restaurant for all the reasons that it's usually great to charge your customers up front -- predictable revenue, fewer no-shows, etc. Any freelancer knows the world of difference between "you get paid in advance" and "you get paid afterward," not just in terms of revenue but in terms of the relationship.

But they also suggest it's better for customers, because the restaurant doesn't have to play games to deal with peak hours and off hours. Rather than run specials and happy hours and whatnot, they can be up front about how much cheaper it's going to be to come on a Tuesday instead of a Saturday. Whether you like differential pricing or not, at least it's honest.

Neat stuff.

(As context, Alinea is not really like most any other restaurant. I haven't been, but I went to a series of talks by famous chefs the other year, and Grant Achatz stood out as a magical food wizard. Think of it as, I don't know, getting a ticket to play basketball with Michael Jordan for an evening.)
posted by jhc at 5:04 PM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


French Laundry is part of Thomas Keller's empire, along with Ad Hoc, Bouchon Bakery and Per Se. Alinea's (and Next's) Grant Achatz was Keller's sous-chef at French Laundry though.
posted by peripathetic at 5:06 PM on June 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


I've tried going to the no reservations Little Goat 3 times now and have pretty much given up. We have tried just about every other joint in the neighborhood due to bouncing off the constant 45+ minute wait times.

There is something to be said about smart and fair reservation systems.
posted by srboisvert at 5:30 PM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


That video of the tables selling reminds me of watching people try to buy PAX passes. Thank God I live in a town where you can get a table at a nice restaurant without spending the day introducing your clicking finger to carpal tunnel.

The thing is the Achatz places are a bit beyond 'a nice restaurant' and more like among the best in the world.
posted by srboisvert at 5:33 PM on June 5, 2014 [9 favorites]


a restaurateur will never be able to sell me a ticket, nor force me to make a reservation. i am a spontaneous guy. the good restaurants out here in the boonies know who i am and welcome me accordingly.
posted by bruce at 5:49 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I haven't been to Alinea, but I have dined at Coi, which is also based on molecular gastronomy and which was rated very highly by all the big people, Michelin, James Beard, etc.

Not my steez. I'm fortunate enough to live in a city with an amazing array of fine dining, including some of the best in the world, and I just was so 'meh' over Coi that I'm happy to report I don't need to jump through hoops to get reservations at other similar restaurants.

I really wish I could get in to State Bird Provisions, though.
posted by janey47 at 5:53 PM on June 5, 2014


That's because you're in the boonies. Alinea, in Chicago, can only seat so many people, and in Chicago, there are orders of magnitude more than so many people.

And when people travel to Chicago to eat at Alinea, you get the sense that they are doing something special.

I don't eat at Alinea, but I know some who do, and they are all for the ticketing system.
posted by eriko at 5:56 PM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


On the other hand I would legitimately buy tickets to Waffle House anytime if I got to try like 10 tasting platters of smothered covered and whatever I want on dem hash browns y'all.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:59 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Actually the tickets are fungible. You can sell them in the secondary market if you can find liquidity which you usually can. Kokonas doesn't talk about it here but that's definitely part of the story.
posted by JPD at 6:14 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Also offering different prices for different slots is in the same vein as demand pricing. It doesnt cost them more or less to serve at different times.
posted by JPD at 6:19 PM on June 5, 2014


I'm anticipating the entry of this system into my local foodie market (Austin) with some trepidation. On the one hand, it'll be nice to have the random chance to buy a ticket to the right sort of restaurant, but on the other, most of the restaurants where they'll do that are probably out of my eating range anyway. (And OpenTable is pretty useless--most of the good places here choose walk-in traffic for primetime hours if they even take OpenTable reservations at all.)
posted by immlass at 6:24 PM on June 5, 2014


bruce: i am a spontaneous guy. the good restaurants out here in the boonies know who i am and welcome me accordingly.

"Good evening Master Bruce, my humble Garden of Olives stands ready to satiate your desire for salad bowls and sticks of bread.....WITHOUT END!

I hope you will find tonight's dining experience exemplary and I'd like to pass along the wamest regards of our head chef Sy Sco.

Now who would like an appetizer to start off tonight?"
posted by dr_dank at 6:42 PM on June 5, 2014 [30 favorites]


Whoops, my bad about French Laundry vs. Alinea. Stretched too far to make a joke :(
posted by muddgirl at 6:55 PM on June 5, 2014


The secondary market for tickets also puts the burden of cancellation/rebooking on the customer, not the restaurant. Very clever.
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:59 PM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


lol@dr_dank, we don't have an olive garden out here, but i would eat there if we had. i have done "motel phases" where i had cheap, tasty chow there. perhaps the funniest incident was when an assistant manager was instructing a group of underage waitresses at the adjacent table about what wine to serve with what food, and i turned around and told them that "there's only one way to learn about wine, one bottle at a time."

eriko, if you're ever in my area, i'll buy you a drink at our local bandon dunes (bandondunesgolf.com). it's a world-class golf facility (top 50 courses in the world); i don't play golf, but i do appreciate world-class eating and drinking.
posted by bruce at 7:04 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I can see how this might work in certain markets, but it rubs me the wrong way as a FOH guy.
posted by vrakatar at 7:49 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


It is incredibly important for any business, no matter how great the demand, not to charge a customer more than the good or service is worth – even if the customer is willing to pay more.

Curious reasoning... it sounds like an assertion of Labor Theory of Value, which (in my pitiful understanding) not all economists accept, and moreover many regular people (perhaps depending on your political orientation) don't accept, either.
posted by polymodus at 8:21 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


This makes a great deal of sense when it comes to the super-hot fly-in-to-eat-there places, and I'm sure that most of the tickets are sold to scalpers, as with most major performance venues. But it would be nice to know that you had a solid reservation that wouldn't be handed over to someone more important or attractive.

That said, I'm much much less likely to spend 200.00 on a ticket to a really remarkable staging of a play than for a meal. And if I really want to eat someone's cooking I'll merrily eat at 9:30 or 5:30 or on a Tuesday, just as long as I'm eating his cooking and not that of the sous chef.
posted by jrochest at 9:07 PM on June 5, 2014


The reasoning isn't curious, it's right there in TFA, and it has nothing to do with the Labor Theory of Value.
Economists looked at our demand for Next shortly after we opened and concluded that we should auction tables. I’m convinced we’d be doing terribly now if we had done that. All of those early customers would have had a great experience, but would in my opinion have been willing to pay too much… they would have left Next thinking – yeah that was great but it wasn’t worth $2,000 – even if they were the ones who chose to pay it.
Put in fairy-tale terms, he doesn't want to kill the golden egg-laying goose, even if unlike the actual fairy-tale he would find at least a few eggs in there. Frankly, the fact that economists are shaking their heads at his short-sighted failure to drain his customer base as dry as possible on first contact with them is strong evidence that he made the right choice, given that he (apparently) actually enjoys running a well-regarded and critically acclaimed restaurant, and isn't just doing it because he wants to get rich and cash out.
posted by No-sword at 9:19 PM on June 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


Surely the previously should be mentioned?
posted by Dip Flash at 9:27 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've been doing IT in the hospitality industry in Chicago now for almost 15 years, and I was quite skeptical about this before I read the article. However, this seems to be a decently solid implementation. It's a very niche market though. Aside from high-end restaurants, I can see a slightly stripped down version of this working very well at busy nightclubs that offer bottle service - the existing online reservation services for both nightclubs and restaurants have two main problems - reliable point of sale system integration that is PCI compliant, and the customization options to make it work for the unique needs of each location. Of course, throwing money at it can solve most of those problems, but it's not easy to justify the additional costs that come with it.

I like the idea that the ticket price is taken off the final bill and considered a deposit on the price of the meal. This tactic alone will really help with this system gaining a wider acceptance with customers. This system should be seen by both the restaurant and the customers as a convenience and not an additional source of revenue.

The biggest hurdle for the expansion of this kind of system is making it worthwhile to established restaurants that are not VC-funded, exclusive, high-profile startups. I can see this selling better as an add-on feature for point of sale systems than as a separate service.

The company I work for uses several different online reservation services for different locations, some are restaurants, some are nightclubs, and while they mostly work reasonably well, it's not a slam dunk in justifying their cost.
posted by chambers at 9:33 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I can see a slightly stripped down version of this working very well at busy nightclubs that offer bottle service

Clubs are perfectly capable of using this system for bottle service now, but they don't want to because the pricing is *never* listed publicly. They'll extract the highest price they can out of every single person that calls, and they don't want anyone to know what anyone else paid for it.
posted by empath at 9:57 PM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


The reasoning isn't curious, it's right there in TFA, and it has nothing to do with the Labor Theory of Value.

I did read the TWFA including that paragraph about the customers, so I guess what is bothering me is the author has an implicit theory of value in his repeated appeals to what something "is worth". That bolded one-liner is represented as if it's some important business maxim, and I had and still have no idea what it is supposed to actually mean.

And just to be clear, this is not to take sides i.e. gastronomy v.s. economists, cause both are intrinsincally interesting. I'm just curious about the article's underlying philosophy and politics: especially given that it is informally a restaurant publication directed towards the restaurant industry.
posted by polymodus at 10:58 PM on June 5, 2014


I sent an email to Ferran Adrià, back when El Bulli was still around, suggesting that the only way to accommodate the incredible demand for seating at his restaurant was to implement a system of musical chairs.

Diners would show up, get in line, and the music would begin. As each dish in the thirty course menu arrived, diners would have to get out of their chairs and run around the tables until the music stopped. If there were any vacant chairs left, new diners could sit and enjoy the next course.

Adrià, for all his inventiveness in the kitchen, was apparently unimaginative when it came to scheduling reservations, and he never replied to my brilliant suggestion.
posted by twoleftfeet at 11:20 PM on June 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


I guess another follow-up, since I ended up writing (basically) a small treatise about this to a friend:

Where this differs from a club/concert experience is ephemerality. Unlike a pop-up show/dinner/store or single-night concert/theatre engagement, Alinea, Next, et al... stay around for a while, potentially changing menus seasonally.

That, unto itself, flattens out demand curves.

This is less like an underground show and more like trying to book tickets for Turrell's Perceptual Cell exhibit at LACMA. With enough time, everyone will have a chance to catch it.

It will still be a memorable experience, but isn't such that it can be a sole experience.
posted by raihan_ at 11:44 PM on June 5, 2014


No-sword: "Put in fairy-tale terms, he doesn't want to kill the golden egg-laying goose, even if unlike the actual fairy-tale he would find at least a few eggs in there. Frankly, the fact that economists are shaking their heads at his short-sighted failure to drain his customer base as dry as possible on first contact with them is strong evidence that he made the right choice, given that he (apparently) actually enjoys running a well-regarded and critically acclaimed restaurant, and isn't just doing it because he wants to get rich and cash out."

There's a lot going for auctions; if the worst complaint about the system is 'my customers think $2,000 for a meal is too expensive', this is high praise indeed. One would hope that people figure this out over time and bid accordingly. In a more perfect world, setting the opening bid at a reasonable sum and saying 'we think this is a reasonable sum' is sufficient, and everything would go swimmingly.

But they're far from perfect. Reaching all the way back to Adam Smith's The Theory of Moral Sentiments, economists have understood reputational effects on market participants. People understand the value of repeat business, and reputation. And modern economists understand the Winner's Curse , and how that might affect Yelp! scores.

So here's a dubious middle ground. You sell some tickets, like normal. They come with a face value, redeemable against your bill. But make your ticket system amenable to exchanges. Stubhub or something, IDK. You rarely release tables via the public system, but quietly sell them into the market via Stubhub or whatnot. The key here is that customers are not paying the restaurant $2,000 for a meal, but $100ish for food, and $1900 for access. If you don't feel it was worth the 1900 you paid, you direct your outrage at anonymous 'scalpers,' rather than the restaurant reviews.

And of course you don't do this, because holy shit the angry fake (or not) reviews that would appear once this sort of behavior gets leaked. You could maybe try just publicly auctioning off $100 voucher reservations, and hope the winners are all middlemen, but its quite difficult to separate the money paid for the reservation and the meal when you know it's all going to the same place. If you're really just in it for the glamor of running a famous and highly regarded restaurant, make it a charity auction for World Hunger.
posted by pwnguin at 11:58 PM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


Pfft, amateur. Nobody on the web works with tables any more.
posted by dudekiller at 2:59 AM on June 6, 2014 [7 favorites]


So here's a dubious middle ground.

Nice! Here's an alternative: you have massively tiered pricing, but you use some small percentage of the profit to provide subsidised meals to poor people (who fit your clientele profile - e.g. students) or have a small number cheap tickets available only on the day for people who queue. And yes, I'm thinking of Broadway theatre tickets here. The subsidy gives you moral and PR cover for your profit-making on the expensive tickets, and my wife and I get to eat in your restaurant when we fly in on holiday, and you get to treat some people who couldn't eat there but would love to.
posted by alasdair at 3:22 AM on June 6, 2014


I can see how this might work in certain markets, but it rubs me the wrong way as a FOH guy.

I misread FOH every time in these contexts, and as someone who spent too many years many many years ago in pro audio, show control, and other production type stuff I see quite clearly how this is going to be working in certain markets.

Fucking scalpers.
posted by mikelieman at 3:40 AM on June 6, 2014


RE: Little Goat upthread, my wife and I were just in Chicago for my birthday, and had just a 15 minute wait for brunch. Sorry about your luck.

We also walked right in and were seated right away for dinner at Avec, which was an even better meal.
posted by emelenjr at 5:56 AM on June 6, 2014


I'm going to open a new restaurant that specializes in nouvelle-cuisine carnival food, like sous-vide foot-long hot dogs.
posted by nerdler at 6:44 AM on June 6, 2014


sous-vide foot-long hot dogs.

All good hot dogs are already done this way.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:54 AM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


Clubs are perfectly capable of using this system for bottle service now, but they don't want to because the pricing is *never* listed publicly. They'll extract the highest price they can out of every single person that calls, and they don't want anyone to know what anyone else paid for it.

For clubs that do that, stating that the ticket fee as a deposit against the final bill still works well even if the bottle service rates are given out only by phone as part of a confirmation process. Having a variable prices for bottle service has its drawbacks, as having standard pricing means your not risking losing a customer to another venue if they call and don't like the price, and usually they will spend more once they are inside anyways, and if I understand it correctly, having variable prices for liquor violates my state's liquor laws, so YMMV.
posted by chambers at 8:19 AM on June 6, 2014


(bruce, it strikes me as pretty unlikely that any golf club produces "world class" eating and drinking experiences -- generally, organizations are only really, really good at one thing, and for a golf club I'd expect that to be golf activities. Places like Alinea, the French Laundry, and the like are many tiers away.)
posted by uberchet at 10:29 AM on June 6, 2014


I'm going to open a new restaurant that specializes in nouvelle-cuisine carnival food, like sous-vide foot-long hot dogs

This already kinda exists in San Francisco.
posted by purpleclover at 12:42 PM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


Trois mec in LA (which is from the guys behind Animal and Son of a Gun, both of which are fantastic, and Ludo Lefebvre, who has done a series of impressive pop-ups, and, oddly, a fried chicken truck) does something similar. I've only eaten there once, but I definitely would again, and I really enjoyed the ticket system.

It's a somewhat different tier of dining - it's "only" $75 per head, but I can say that it was a great price for what it was. Because everyone is pre-fixe, and they know the timing of the seatings, they can do an incredible job of giving appropriate attention to each course. One of the best meals I've ever had.
posted by flaterik at 3:21 PM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


A friend of mine who's a chef recently switched from "reservations" to "tickets." Her scale is smaller, but her reasons were similar and she wished she'd done it sooner.
posted by rhymes with carrots at 6:50 PM on June 6, 2014


flaterik: Trois Mec actually licenses their system from Alinea! :)
posted by raihan_ at 8:47 AM on June 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


if I understand it correctly, having variable prices for liquor violates my state's liquor laws, so YMMV.

The prices for bottles are the same. The difference is the bar tab guarantee you have to agree to for the table. It can range between $200 and thousands of dollars depending on the club and entertainment.
posted by empath at 9:42 AM on June 7, 2014


« Older Could This Kill Internet 'Journalism' As We Know...   |   Redefining DO NOT TRY THIS AT... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post