Are you ready to pay in advance for a restaurant meal just like you would do when going to a theatre performance, music concert or sports event?
In September, when we wrote about Next, the Chicago based restaurant we asked a question whether such a system would work in Europe, given that this restaurant sold tickets in advance.
Now, a few months later, the system called Tock, created by the co-owner of Alinea and Next, Nick Kokonas, has arrived in Europe. This new concept has faced some criticism as Clove Club in Shoreditch east London announced that it would be the first restaurant in the UK to adopt it for its tasting menus. Faviken, the Swedish restaurant also announced when they opened this season’s bookings that they would ask for a prepayment for the food at the point of reservation, with accommodation and drinks to be paid for on site, after the stay.
Many were quick to question the system and protest that theywould be paying in advance for the few who do not show up in restaurants. The number of ‘no shows’ in restaurants, like in any other business, is extremely costly particularly in view of the low margins involved. And in places where a booking might be extremely difficult to get, it is common practice for concierges in top hotels to pre-book tables just in case their clients request a table, making it even harder for normal restaurant clients to secure a booking.
People have become used to paying in advance for services such as booking a flight, hotel, theatre tickets or sporting events though there are still some who love the spontaneity of deciding at the last minute only to find that most top events are fully booked months in advanced.
However, to date, despite the fact that securing a booking in certain top restaurants of the world could be extremely difficult if you have little flexibility on the dates, very few restaurants if any, had used either a prepaid system for dinner or else requested a deposit against a ‘no show’. This is set to change if the system works.
But will it work? Like every system, it has its pros and cons. Many critics have questioned this model saying there could be legitimate reasons why someone would not turn-up to a restaurant.
At the end of the day, every restaurant and business has a right to experiment with its business model. There will be some restaurants, for which it will make sense to ask for pre-payment, particularly those where a booking may be close to impossible to secure, we think other more normal restaurants will struggle with such a system.
As chef Dave Beran of Next Restaurant said at Chef’s Revolution in Zwolle last year, “This is a niche concept because we sell tickets. It’s like going to theatre or a sports event. You need to go online and book your ticket. When you do so, you buy a ticket for the whole service including the drinks. The prices have over the past years varied from around 85 US dollars to 385 US dollars. It depends on the food on offer. We are also experimenting with different prices by time and day. The price on a Wednesday would be cheaper to that on a Saturday evening. This allows us to have a predictable and steady flow of customers that allows Next to offer a great deal more, than we would otherwise do at such prices.”
Beran said that this concept has helped them to source the best possible produce. “When everything is paid for in advance it gives us buying power. But it is also beneficial to our producers and also to our guests. It is a bit of a crazy model but it works.”
There is no doubt that the system is beneficial to restaurants. How it is going to be sold to consumers is another question?
Looking at myself, I have no doubt that I would happily pay in advance to secure a meal in a restaurant I would really like to visit. But I am not sure I would take the risk for a restaurant which is less sought after, knowing that I could always secure a reservation elsewhere.
It is interesting to see what the end result will be for restaurants. Will customers who have prepaid their meals end up spending less or more on their drinks? And what happens if a new ‘black’ market emerges of persons who start selling tickets to restaurants they never intended to visit in the first place.
For the time being, given we are still in the early days we just have to keep a close watch and see whether this is a system that could revolutionise the way we dine in the near future.