Thinking Outside the Box(office) – Restaurant season tickets

restaurant season tickets

Can a restaurant sell tickets in lieu of taking reservations? If so, how about selling restaurant season tickets?

The answer to both questions is "yes". How this innovative approach works is far more sophisticated than you might think. We're not talking about a old fashion supper club, or all-you-can eat buffet. Plus, selling tickets instead of taking reservations has become so successful it has given rise to the same secondary market re-sale  as seen in professional sports. If a restaurant can sell season tickets, can other businesses do so as well?

Why do we blog this? As a leading provider of ticketing software for venues and events, ThunderTix is privy to new and alternative ways to produce events that you may not be aware of. When we see an emerging trend or successful execution on a new idea, we relish the opportunity to share it with hard working venue owners and event promoters. We like to call this...

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Not Your Father's Supper Club

Award winning chef Grant Achatz partnered with technologist Nick Kokonas in 2005 to go about changing the dinning experience. Note that before the culinary endeavor with Achatz, Kokonas graduated from Colgate University with a degree in philosophy and had spent ten years as the owner of a proprietary derivatives trading firm. The duo now operate two critically acclaimed locations 'Alinea' and 'Next'.

The video above is a behind the scenes look at Achatz and Kokonas at work in the Chicago area progressive cuisine culture. The video highlights not only the food but the amount of work it takes to be at the forefront of the very competitive high-end restaurant business. The dinning experience at both restaurants has been completely re-thought, re-mixed and re-purposed as to be wholly unique. Even the nature of a dinner reservation has been drastically changed.

Instead of reservations, Next restaurant sells tickets that are purchased in advance. As described on the restaurant's website, ticket sales benefit both the business and the patron:

Unlike an a la carte restaurant with many walk-in customers and dozens of menu items, Next is creating a truly unique dining experience and doing so at an amazing price. By eliminating no-shows, requiring pre-payment, and varying the price by time and day we are able to create a predictable and steady flow of patrons allowing us to offer a great deal more than would otherwise be possible at these prices.

Such a radical departure from what has been an ages old process should be of note to any restaurant. Among the comments of the implications of a restaurant selling tickets in lieu of non-binding reservations these two may be the most salient

By not taking reservations, I don’t mean they’re the kinds of places you walk up to and stand in a long line to get seated. I mean that in order to get in, you need to buy a ticket, the same way you would to the theater or a rock concert. - Scott Edelman

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. - Dennis Yang

Ticket sales began when Achatz and Kokonas opened Alinea in 2010. The practice has since graduate to an even more "rock concert" like process by selling season passes for dinning. The season pass is just like the ones for professional sports or a theater. Also like pro sports, is the demand for tickets. The Zagat blog just posted the very latest on Next season passes

Warm up the credit cards. Yesterday, an email went out to previous season ticket holders officially announcing the 2013 menus. Season ticket holders will get first dibs on tables and set pricing – no word yet for us lowly bottom feeders who can only afford one of the three extravagant menus. Check out the menu descriptions below, and their their Facebook page for the full announcement.

Inedible Inevitable

The incredible demand for Next restaurant season tickets has caused an entire secondary ticket market to bloom - including the inevitable unauthorized ticket re-sale by "scalpers".

Readers of 'Fee Free Friday' are all too familiar with the woes of event ticket resale on the secondary market. Concert tickets are routinely re-sold for eye-popping amounts with some face values being marked up 1,000%.

The demand for tickets to 'Next' restaurant also far outstrips supply. Tickets for an individual dining experience, as well as the new season tickets are listed on ebay and Craigslist for as much as $3,000.00 each

Rather than enforce a terse olicy on obtaining tickets from the secondary market, the owners of 'Next' leave it to the laws of supply and demand with the caveat that gastronauts should observe local laws.

In yet another parallel to tickets for concerts and sports, tickets to eat at 'Next' are said to be heirloom class items, coveted as an "inheritance" in certain upper class social circles. Since the restaurant honors the ticket in and of itself, and does not (yet) tie ticket to name, a purchaser may give, trade, auction or sell it on the open market. The liberal policy is in stark contrast to the controversial policy set forth by industry giant Ticketmaster, who requires ticket buyers be bound to the purchase by photo ID or credit card.

The New Black

Soon after Achatz and Kokonas invented the process of selling tickets for dinner, other restaurant began to adopt the practice, for all the same reasons, profit and liquidity being the most popular.

Saison, in San Francisco California, has just recently entered into the ticket selling marketplace. Originally, the high-end restaurant in the city by the bay offered tickets only to its chef's table. The success of that specialized experience, along with the influential results 'Next' , has resulted in tickets being the only was to dine at Saison. The Inside Scoop explains:

Saison reservations will only be available via prepaid tickets procured on SeatMe. Similar to the system at places like Grant Achatz’s Next, the tickets must paid fully in advance; previously, Saison sold tickets to the 4-seat chef’s counter only, but now, they’re doing it for all the seats.

Tickets are transferable but not refundable. The price tag  is inclusive of food, service, tax and if desired, wine pairings. For the restaurant, the idea is that will reduce no-shows, while giving them a better idea of the evening’s flow. For diners, the idea is that once you’re there, you just enjoy the experience and don’t worry about paying a bill after dinner. Phone reservations will be accepted the day of.

Also interesting is that the menu served in the main dining room varies in price throughout the week, not unlike how San Francisco Giants ticket prices vary if they are playing the rival Dodgers (higher prices) or the lowly Pirates (cheaper).

Should this trend continue, restaurant season tickets will become the new black. Less profitable spoken reservations may very well fall entirely out of favor, never to be seen again.

Gastronaut or Not

Prompt to sell tickets for any kind of eventRestaurant season tickets are an excellent examples of "thinking outside the box office". Garnering higher profits is the goal of any business and it may be time for you to rethink how purchases are performed, paying heed to what has been achieved by restaurant like 'Next'.

For example, an antiques store could just have an "event" that coincides with the arrival of new merchandise. The event can offer a pre-sale tickets for a set price, separate from the cost of an item, giving devout "pickers" first chance at seeing (and buying!) vintage goods. After event, the traditional looky-loos would be welcomed to the store as normal.

Season tickets for 'Next' is just one way to tailor ticket sales to make your business more profitable. ThunderTix has a powerful, ubiquitous tool set for you to add ticket sales to your business process. Contact us and ask how we can apply our technology to be part of your sales channel - Let's get creative!