New System Seeks to Drastically Change the Way We Make Reservations

On a recent weekday afternoon in May, Lazy Bear – a communal fine dining restaurant in San Francisco – began taking reservations for June. Within the hour, they had sold each and every seat in the restaurant for the entire month.

Sold by the way, not reserved.

Lazy Bear, one of many new restaurants adopting this new “tickets for dinner” model, uses a new system that manages the risk involved in making (and keeping) reservations. It does this by asking restaurant-goers to pay upfront for their meals, in the same way you’d buy a ticket to the theater in advance of the show – solving the restaurant market’s misery of many unfulfilled reservations and potentially altering the way we eat out entirely.

Nick Kokonas, co-owner of the chic Chicago spots The Aviary, Alinea, and Next, pioneered this ticketed reservations model in 2011. He expects to release the commercial version of “Tock” this summer – the computer software he created that enables restaurants to manage table inventory and create various types of tickets (anything from a regular old reservation to pre-paid meals). The new “table auction” or “digital concierge” model obviously helps incentivize consumers to uphold their reservations and resolves an issue that online reservation technology (like Open Table, for example) potentially could have worsened. The ease of booking a reservation online, without having to go through an actual human-being, makes it that much easier to just not show up.

Restaurants’ bottom lines are aided not only by lessening the number of no-shows, but also through the revenue generated by potentially charging more for “box seats” (premium seating) in the restaurant itself. Critics call it “inhospitable,” but proponents argue that scaling prices just follows suit with other forms of entertainment: movies, concerts, sporting events, shows, etc.

What side do you fall on?

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