Coming Soon to an Eatery Near You: Restaurant Ticketing

by Liz Thompson2 Min Read

Restaurant ticketing is a relatively new concept that has not as yet spread like wildfire, but is quickly gaining steam. It goes like this: if you want a table at a certain restaurant at a certain time, a regular reservation made via phone will no longer do the job if the restaurant uses a “restaurant ticketing“ system. Everything is done online via a calendar based on availability and the dining patron must pay ahead in the same way you pay in advance for a sporting event. There is no refund and changes cannot be made, but the ticket can be given away. The first of these systems to launch is TOCK, created by Nick Kokonas — the Chicago restaurateur behind Alinea, Next and the Aviary. Some of his investors include Thomas Keller,  Twitter CEO Dick Costolo and the Melman family, owners of the 118-concept Lettuce Entertain You restaurant group. There’s also Ticketbud, a self-service event ticketing software, that allows restaurants to market events, sell tickets online and view RSVPs. Other features include next-day payments, real-time reporting for marketing purposes,the ability to preset menus and reduce waste and expenditures. Until these systems appeared, all dining patrons were responsible for either making or breaking a successful night by either canceling at the last minute or worse just not showing up. This system changes the balance of power and gives the restaurant owner the control necessary to run a profitable business. It’s about time. Last-minute cancellations and no-shows eat into a restaurant’s profits and that waste is often baked into menu prices.  As patrons ourselves, we have all have gotten too used to having the luxury of spontaneity in terms of dining, but it has gotten to the point, especially with expensive establishments, where restaurants can no longer afford the losses caused by indecisive dinners. Other benefits to the restaurant side include:

  • No longer needing a dedicated staff member to take and confirm reservations.
  • Lower food costs due to forecasting based on the exact number of diners on the pre-paid schedule
  • Labor savings by scheduling the exact number of needed staff based on a specific number of patrons

The positives for the patrons:

  • They no longer have to waste time on the phone attempting to make the reservation because it is done online within seconds.
  • There can be no mix ups with reservations because the time slot is blocked out on the calendar.
  • This also means not being asked to wait at the bar until your table, which you made a reservation for, is ready. Being asked to “wait at the bar” has become a big pet peeve of those that do not wish to be pushed there.

What about those who still like to decide last minute where to eat? Some of the restaurants using the ticketing system put a few tables aside for walk-ins, but there are no guarantees. Right now, restaurants such as Thomas Keller’s French Laundry in Napa and Per Se in New York City, Alinea, Next, and the Aviary in Chicago  are using a ticketing system, but others will eventually follow when they see the dollar savings that are passed on to the restaurant because of the new system.

Liz Thompson

Liz Thompson is a culinary instructor and has years of experience as an owner and a restaurant and food marketing consultant.

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