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"Tickets" for Restaurants

Gonzo70 | Jan 7, 201511:14 AM

I noticed that Journeyman recently opted to switch to the "ticket" system created by Nick Kokonas in Chicago (the co-owner of Alinea) in lieu of taking reservations. For those not familiar with this system, people have to pay for their entire meal in advance, locking in a specific date, time and table size - and the ticket cannot be refunded or changed to another date if one's plans change; people can try to "transfer" the ticket to someone else if they can find someone willing to "buy" the ticket - or they can gift it to family/friends. I.e. this makes reserving a table at a restaurant akin to purchasing tickets to a sporting event or concert.

In Chicago restaurant "tickets" is rather controversial with the vast majority of diners disliking the system (I base this opinion on discussions with friends as well as what I have read on social media and Chicago based food forums). Tickets definitely have advantages to the restaurant (i.e. not having to deal with last minute cancellations and no-shows and receiving payment in advance) but this is mainly at the expense of the consumer (who may be out a large sum of money if plans change or an emergency arises). IMHO the one potential perk for diners is if restaurants discount ticket prices for weeknight and/or early/late dining times (i.e. off peak hours) - if one does not mind dining on such days/times one can save a bit of money (though not all restaurants selling tickets discount off peak times). "Dynamic pricing" is the term Mr. Kokonas uses for adjusting the price paid for the meal based on the demand for the date/time of the reservation - the actual meal is the same food/number of courses despite differing prices.

Personally I feel that tickets work for top tier venues with exceptional demand, but for restaurants that generally have empty seats they are more likely to deter people from booking a meal (due to reluctance to prepay for a meal and not being able to receive a refund or change the date if something arises) and that lower demand restaurants can only pull this off if they sell tickets at what a consumer perceives as a great value.

Mr. Kokonas also is creating a type of tickets where one would not have to pay for a full meal, but pay a non refundable deposit, and the restaurant could make incentives for booking at off-peak days/times via making the deposit be worth more for some reservations (i.e. a $25 deposit might be worth $50 off your meal if you book 9:30pm on a Wednesday). This I could see being more successful as it still would help restaurants decrease late cancellations and no shows but not cause a diner to be out a massive sum of money if one is not able to honor their reservation.

I am curious what people's thoughts are about restaurant "tickets" in the Boston area (I was raised in Boston, but have been in Chicago for some time now). Looking at Journeyman's website it does not appear as they are selling many tickets; it appears that nearly every spot is available when I took a look (there is a link on their website). There are currently several restaurants in Chicago selling "tickets" and doing so with varying levels of success.

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