Paying In Advance For A Restaurant Reservation

Cancelled reservations are a curse for restaurants.  Reservations get made, the diners-to-be never appear, and a perfectly good table goes empty on a busy night while people wait impatiently at the bar or in the foyer, or leave altogether.

One restaurant in Chicago, called Next, decided to address the problem by replacing reservations with tickets.  You buy your ticket in advance for a table at a particular date and time, and the tickets are non-refundable.  Next’s website explains that “[u]nlike 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.”

Requiring diners to buy tickets dramatically reduced the number of no-shows; Next experienced only five full table no-shows last year and the number of tables where the full party didn’t come fell sharply, too.  Other restaurants are beginning to adopt the practice, so it may be coming soon to a restaurant near you.

I would be perfectly happy with this system at high-end restaurants on busy nights.  If I like a restaurant, I want it to succeed.  If cutting out the lost profits from reservation no-shows helps a great place to stay in business, I’m all for it.

I also think, however, that the reservation/ticket process should be a two-way street.  Kish and I aren’t the no-show types — our problem is showing up at the designated time and having the restaurant tell us that the table isn’t ready yet.  We had a bad experience at one restaurant where we waited for a long while and the hostess just shrugged it off.  If we buy a pre-paid, non-refundable ticket and the table isn’t available when we arrive, we should get a free drink and a significant discount.

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