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.