Are Restaurant Tickets the New Reservations?

Rachel Tepper Paley
Yahoo Food
An 86-component dish at Alinea in Chicago.
An 86-component dish at Alinea in Chicago.

An 86-component dish at Alinea in Chicago.Photo credit: Alinea/Facebook

At Alinea, chef Grant Achatz's molecular wonderland in Chicago, one doesn't simply make a reservation. Oh, no. The restaurant instead employs a custom ticketing system that treats dinner more like theater or a sporting event. Once you’ve purchased a ticket—which costs up to $265, depending on the date and time—it’s use it or lose it. (Or scalp it on Craigslist.)

And now, ticketed dining may be coming to a restaurant near you.

Program developer Nick Kokonas (who co-owns Alinea with Achatz) plans to roll out a pilot program early next year at several unnamed operations. According to Eater, they include a San Francisco eatery, several restaurants in Europe, and a mysterious 15-restaurant group.

The system won’t necessarily be exactly like the one at Alinea, Kokonas told Eater. “You can have walk-ins, you could have reservations that cost nothing, and then you can have reservations with deposits for peak hours and peak tables,” he said. Like Alinea, restaurants with set menus can opt to offer reservations in the form of a pre-paid ticket.

Kokonas thinks people will take quickly to his ticketing system—”The vast majority of our customers, once they do it once, they say, ‘this makes sense,’” he said—but we weren’t so sure. We surveyed a few readers and restaurant industry folks via Facebook and Twitter to find out.

Sam Haltiwanger, a bartender at Veritas Wine Bar in Washington, D.C., likes the idea. ”If a restaurant begins an evening with 40 reservations, but seven of those never show up, it is a burden on the staff,” he wrote. He likes the idea that “your reservation has a price tag on it.”

But food writer Carly Fisher disagrees. “This system only works if your restaurant is at full capacity every night,” she cautioned. “Kudos to their success but removing all dinner reservation or walk up options without securing payment ahead of time is alienating to diners and against the moral fiber of hospitality.”

Reader @gettingsome also conjured a disquieting vision of the future:

Now that would be a sight. Overall, reader opinions were split as to whether Kokonas’s system is a good or just plain awful idea. But there’s no disputing that it serves Alinea well—patrons continue to snatch up tickets faster than you can ask, “Table for two?”

No can do, it’s sold out.