What is in this article?:
- Bret Thorn, Nancy Kruse on latest restaurant reservation methods
- Reservations still a basic component of hospitality
In a monthly series, menu trend analyst Nancy Kruse and NRN senior food editor Bret Thorn debate current trends in the restaurant industry. For this installment, they discuss reservations.
NRN senior food editor Bret Thorn discusses different ways fine dining is dealing with the longstanding challenge of managing reservations.
Nancy, we’ve previously discussed the problem of customers failing to honor their restaurant reservations. You mentioned a restaurateur in Los Angeles who resorted to shaming no-shows by naming them on social media. That might make an operator feel better, but it also seems like a sure way to alienate potential customers.
Managing reservations is a longstanding challenge, especially at high-end full-service restaurants where a two-top that goes unfilled can result in serious lost income.
As far back as 2009, Nation’s Restaurant News reported on restaurants that charged cancellation fees for guests who didn’t show up at the appointed time. Per Se, Thomas Keller’s fine-dining restaurant in New York, was bold enough even then to charge $175 per person if guests failed to cancel their reservations at least three days in advance.
But other restaurants are taking the notion of dining as theater to a new level by selling tickets for fixed-price tasting menus in advance, just as they would if they were going to the theater or boarding an airplane.
Chicago restaurateur Nick Kokonas, the operational mind that has partnered with Grant Achatz at Alinea, Next and Aviary, pioneered the concept by selling tickets to Next. He even developed software for it, with the option of charging different prices at different times, so a prime-time reservation — Friday at 8 p.m., say — costs more than one for a table at 5:30 p.m. on a Tuesday.
Kokonas even sells $20 tickets for a seat at his cocktail bar, Aviary, which is applied to the purchase of food and drink for the evening. The Wall Street Journal reports that the result has been a decrease in the percentage of no-shows, from 14 percent to near zero. And if they don’t show up, it’s $20 straight to the bottom line.
The trend seems to be growing. In the same article, the Wall Street Journal noted that Volver in Philadelphia and Trois Mec in Los Angeles have also adopted ticketing systems.
Other restaurants are in the enviable position of having customers vie for choice seats. A number of websites and smartphone apps have sprouted up to take advantage of that, snatching up those reservations early and then charging their customers a premium for them, like any ticket scalpers, with the proceeds going into the pockets of said scalpers rather than to the restaurants.
But some companies, including Table8 in San Francisco and Resy in New York, are partnering with the restaurants. They set aside an inventory of hard-to-get tables and charge eager customers a premium. The proceeds are split between the restaurants and their new partners — everyone wins!
Except, perhaps, the customers. Although people are used to paying extra for better seats at the theater or sporting events, and they’re getting increasingly accustomed to forking over extra cash for extra legroom or early boarding privileges when flying, a surcharge for a primetime table and purchasing advance tickets for a meal is uncharted territory.
What do you think, Nancy? Are these new strategies a boon for restaurants, or are they fraught with pitfalls? And could these strategies be adapted to more casual settings?