Restaurateur Nick Kokonas is taking the ticketing system he developed for the Chicago restaurants he owns with Grant Achatz public. Kokonas and Achatz first debuted their ticketing system with the 2011 opening of Next. Alinea then switched over to tickets in 2012, with The Aviary following in 2013. As reported by Epicurious, Kokonas is launching a version of the reservation system for any restaurant that wants to switch to a ticketed model.
Kokonas tells Eater that he plans to do a "pilot program" with a few restaurants this Summer before making the ticketing system widely available "probably early next year." While Elizabeth in Chicago and Trois Mec in LA already use Kokonas' system, Kokonas says with the pilot program he is looking to see how the system works in a variety of restaurant settings. Unnamed potential testers include a 15-restaurant group, a restaurant in San Francisco, and a few European restaurants. "Over the next four or five months we're going to have a few key restaurants use the existing software while we build out the new version," he explains.
The system could offer a potential savings to restaurant operators. Where reservation giant OpenTable charges equipment fees, monthly service fees, and takes a cut of each reservation, Kokonas is currently planning to charge only a monthly fee ("a couple hundred dollars a month," he tells Epicurious). Kokonas says these savings can be immediately passed on to customers. Kokonas also emphasizes how tickets have significantly cut down on the number of pesky (and costly) no-shows his restaurants have to deal with. He explains, "Everybody pays the toll for the 5% of customers that are bad customers."
A Flexible System
Here's how it will work. Restaurants will have the option to decide how many of their tables to sell in advance. A la carte restaurants might decide to put the cost of the ticket towards the bill (as at The Aviary, which charges $20 on weeknights for a "deposit" and then applies it to guests' final bill). "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," says Kokonas.
For set menu restaurants like Alinea and Trois Mec, restaurants might decide to do all reservations via pre-paid ticket and, if they so choose, adjust the prices according to how desirable the reservation time is. "It's acknowledging that like a sporting event or theater there are good seats and bad seats. There's different value at different times and peak hours."
Competing for Customers
Kokonas thinks it will not be a hard sell to get customers to buy tickets. "There's the convenience aspect of it. People under a certain age would rather go online and hit a button and buy the experience ... The vast majority of our customers, once they do it once, they say, 'this makes sense.'"
Kokonas' ticketing system will be yet another competitor stepping up to oust OpenTable as the default reservation and table management system. Yelp, for example, recently announced its own online reservation system, while TripAdvisor recently acquired online reservation platform LaFourchette. Apple is also in the mix, having filed a patent for a reservation and ordering system in December.