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Restaurants Experiment With Selling Tickets For Dinner

from the entrepreneurial-restaurateurs dept

It is notoriously difficult to be successful in the restaurant business (though the popular adage that "9 out of 10 restaurants fail within the first year" may actually be false). That said, a restaurant is a business like any other, so experimentation with new business models is important, especially in tough economic times like we have been facing in recent years. Traditionally, restaurant reservations can be canceled at the whim of the diner without penalty, but for an industry, whose margins are continually squeezed, canceled reservations could make the difference between a profitable night and an unprofitable one. Restaurants sell a limited amount of daily perishable goods and services, which draws many parallels to both the theater and airline businesses. So, perhaps restaurateurs took note of these similarities for themselves when they started selling "tickets" for their nightly dinners instead of taking reservations. In addition to tickets to individual dinners, the restaurants also offer subscriptions to a whole season of dinners -- another tactic lifted right out of the playbook of theaters. These restaurateurs correctly recognize that dining out is not just about the food; it is a social experience just like a concert, the movies, or a sporting event.

The benefit for the restaurant is that even if the diner doesn't show up for the meal, the restaurant isn't stuck holding the bag -- the responsibility to offload an unwanted dinner ticket then shifts to the diner rather than the business. Furthermore with a guarantee of revenue for the evening, shopping for expensive perishables in preparation for an evening's dinner service is much easier. That said, pre-paying for a night's meal is a complete departure from the regular dining out experience, so at first, I can really only see this tactic working for a set of exclusive restaurants. After all, online reservation marketplace TableXchange folded last year, citing empty tables at even the most popular dining hotspots.

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  1. icon
    Blake (profile), 12 May 2010 @ 9:01pm

    Ok if a establishment is selling me dinner tickets it better do the following:

    1) Make sure my table is available
    2) Make sure my meal is ready in a reasonable time (20-30min tops)
    3) Stop slugging me with hidden extras like surcharges, corkage, cakeage etc.

    I'm tired of making reservations only to turn up then still have to wait half an hour just to get seated, then another hour+ for my food.

    You've got your reservation, you know exactly how many people you will be catering for at minimum - staff accordingly. Don't give my 7:30 table away to a couple who got there at 6:30 and you hoped would be gone before I got here. If your menu only has 3 mains on it, make sure you have all the ingredients! (yes one place was that bad) If when I make the reservation for a 7pm table and tell you I want meals x&y ready for 7pm as we have an 8pm show to attend - have them ready.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    NAMELESS.ONE, 12 May 2010 @ 9:08pm

    i see

    then i have to also pay for the meal

    can you say STUPID?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 May 2010 @ 9:42pm

    the full price of the meal is included (unless you order wine), which makes the ticket idea ok in my book. But I probably would not frequent the place because I like not knowing what I'm going to eat until I sit down and look at the menu.

    from the faq i linked above:

    Yes. Instead of reservations our bookings will be made more like a theater or a sporting event. Your tickets will be fully inclusive of all charges, including service. Ticket price will depend on which seating you buy – Saturday at 8 PM will be more expensive than Wednesday at 9:30 PM. This will allow us to offer an amazing experience at a very reasonable price.

    How much?
    A meal at Next will represent a great value. Depending on the menu AND what day and time you are dining, food will be $40 to $75 for the entire prix fixe menu. Wine and beverage pairings will begin at a $25 supplement. Next’s goal is to serve 4-star food at 3-star prices.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 May 2010 @ 9:44pm

    Re: i see

    Have you ever paid for a meal that you weren't asked if you wanted "Fries with that?"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    ElijahBlue (profile), 12 May 2010 @ 9:51pm

    It's a deal for me if everything is included in a prepaid price, including tax and tip, and like Blake said, don't keep me waiting if I've paid in advance for a table at 7:30.

    However, the upscale dining in my family has been cut back to a bare minimum, and I don't know if it will ever come back. You know what I really want someone to invent? A f--ing time machine so I can go back to 1998 and stay there, before the dot-com bust and 9/11, when I ate wherever I wanted and never even looked at the bill.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 May 2010 @ 10:51pm

    I haven't eaten out more than once a month in 4 or 5 years. It's not worth it. The wait is annoying, the food is mediocre, it's not served timely, it costs too much, there is too much food, and all of these annoyances are things I can solve at home by fixing my own food. Also eating out takes hours and hours out of my day.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 May 2010 @ 10:57pm

    exactly, if I have prepaid for everything I want at a 730pm time, after I sit down, AT 730 pm, you had better be bringing my food right then, not waiting 30 minutes to make it, or trying to up-sell me on things I didn't ask for

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 May 2010 @ 11:18pm

    Transition from buying into a brand to buying food..? Probably not a local idea.

    Interesting idea. However most restaurants that are a part of a chain that has more than 5 locations usually sources from the same few companies. Sysco and United Natural Foods are two that come to mind.

    If the same concept was applied to smaller companies, which the cooking staff is provided the levity to change things around to accommodate locally available foodstuffs, it may be worthwhile.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    ElijahBlue (profile), 12 May 2010 @ 11:31pm

    Re: Wholesale sport shoe.

    Do you by chance have a time machine for sale that will take me back to the glory days of 1998? Because I have absolutely no interest in buying knockoff Nike tennis shoes, clothes, handbags, sunglasses, jewelry, (you forgot the comma), candle (you don't need to capitalize Candle), (oops, you forgot another comma)craft (craft what?) or daily necessities. (You mean adult diapers? Condoms? Do you have any in size XL? I need a megapack, preferably a minimum of 1000.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2010 @ 12:00am

    Re: Re: i see

    ROFL Couldn't have said it better myself.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Blatant Coward (profile), 13 May 2010 @ 1:28am

    Re: Re: Re: i see

    Probably lets Mommy do the buying.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    Richard (profile), 13 May 2010 @ 2:18am

    Old Hat

    Of course college dining rooms, conferences etc have been selling dinner tickets for many years.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Jason Lotito, 13 May 2010 @ 6:36am

    Get what you pay for

    People complaining about eating out need to consider where they are going. My wife and I, before we were married and started having kids, enjoyed a new restaurant every Friday night. We'd go out and enjoy ourselves. We made it a point to try new places, avoiding going back to the same old places all the time. It helps that we have variety here in Montreal. If you aren't living in a city, your choices will be much more limited.

    If you want exceptional service with excellent food and a server that will make your experience enjoyable, don't expect to shell out a mere $10-20 a person.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    PopeHilarius (profile), 13 May 2010 @ 6:43am

    I think this is an interesting premise, and you explain succinctly the advantages to the restaurant. But what does this offer the diner? Why, besides fleeting novelty, would I buy tickets for a meal? It doesn't do me any good at all.

    It sort of strikes me as the newspaper paywall for restaurants. If someone implements this ticket plan, doesn't that just give a competitor a chance to position themselves as "Make reservations, and it's okay if you cancel! The customer comes first!"

    I'm definitely for restaurants experimenting with new business models. But I think something that is to the customer's disadvantage isn't going to work for very long.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2010 @ 6:55am

    he he
    Table sex change

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    BBT, 13 May 2010 @ 7:44am


    I don't know about you, but if the patrons at a restaurant are screwing on the tables, I at least expect the restaurateurs to have the decency to change the tablecloth in between patrons. It's just common courtesy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    tasmot (profile), 13 May 2010 @ 7:45am

    A ticket - no thanks - an honored reservation would be good though

    I certainly understand the problem with reservations that are too easy to cancel, especially at a popular restaurant. I would be willing to pay a fee for a reservation that would come off of the bill. Life changes, so there would need to be some kind of cut-off period for cancelling (like you need to cancel 2 days ahead to get it all back and you get half if you cancel 1 day ahead. None back if you cancel the day of the reservation. Now this means (to me at least) that I should be seated within 15 minutes of showing up. I mean, I have a prepaid reservation right? This should guarantee me a table when I show up. It has really bugged me in the past when I make a reservation, get there 15 minutes early, and still have to wait until 45 minutes after my reservation time to be seated. What good was the reservation.

    On the other hand, I have made a reservation while driving to a restaurant, shown up, and been seated before the 20 other people sitting in the lobby. I like that restaurant.

    One other thought is that once seated, some people spend the rest of the night at that table. Instead of a reservation for just a time, how about being able to reserve a table for an hour or two hours. It means that the food order has to be placed quickly and the kitchen has to get the food out in a reasonable amount of time after the order is placed though. As with anything simple, there are so many complicating factors.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2010 @ 8:35am

    I will not pay for "tickets" to dinner. Pre-paying for anything completely removes ANY incentive to provide good service or good products.

    What incentive do they have to seat me for the time I made the reservation for? I've prepaid which means that they can now overbook the restaurant and make me wait 45+ minutes for a table because they don't lose anything if I walk away.

    Reservations work at good restaurants because they know that I'll leave after half an hour of waiting to be seated for a reservation. They'll lose my business and they'll have to deal with an empty table.

    Why provide good service? If they treat me like crap I can't cancel the tip.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    ElijahBlue (profile), 13 May 2010 @ 9:35am


    The reason I think the idea would work is this - if an upscale restaurant f--ks up your dining experience after you've prepaid for everything, including the gratuity, then you won't come back again.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2010 @ 1:06pm


    On the flip side I rarely make my own meals. While eating out can be more expensive, I'm not particularly interested in cooking, most people can do it far better than I, and it gives me an opportunity to have a variety of food that I would never bother with otherwise.

    I guess I'm the very odd person that rarely has issues with service. I notice my friends also like to complain about table service in the city I'm from, and I just don't understand it. Whether I wait 5-20 minutes, I can usually handle it with another activity.

    I *have* cut out many needless purchases such as coffee and smoothies. It was a habit, and a waste of one. But otherwise eating in restaurants/takeout is far more preferable.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. icon
    Suzanne Lainson (profile), 13 May 2010 @ 1:06pm

    It might work if at least one these conditions exists

    1. The restaurant routinely is full and this is one of the few ways to get a reservation.
    2. You get a better financial deal. If buying a ticket results in a good meal for less money, it should appeal to some people.
    3. You get better service.
    4. You can transfer the ticket or reschedule. There's a big risk in buying in advance if your plans might suddenly change. Airlines sell non transferable tickets all the time, but they are so heavily discounted that people take the risk.
    5. There's some sort of frequent buyer reward built in.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
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