Alinea/Next/Aviary owner Nick Kokonas wrote a thorough explanation of the thinking behind the ticketing system that he created for his restaurants. I agree with Kokonas that tickets are GREAT for restaurants, as the main advantages of the system are minimizing no shows and basically locking in a certain level of revenue per customer. In his own examples he mentions that the first Next menu brought in over $500,000 in revenues in the first two days. What restaurant wouldn’t want that kind of money up front? Plus he realizes every tech entrepreneur’s dream of replacing people with robots (kidding…sort of).
But I still think that the system, at least the way Next has used it, is too unfriendly towards the consumer. Kokonas broke his advantages down into six points, so here’s my point of view on each:
It creates transparency of process for customers and builds trust and loyalty
Kokonas knocks OpenTable for not providing an accurate representation of a restaurant’s availability at a given night and time. That is one of the more annoying things about OpenTable. And who wants to be bothered to pick up the phone and talk to an actual human? So the transparency thing is a somewhat valid point, though what’s to prevent a restaurant selling tickets to hold some back or run special sales for VIPs? Given that, I’m not so sure the “trust and loyalty” argument really flies. To me, there are other ways to make a diner feel that “trust and loyalty”.
It acknowledges that there are better / worse table times, and shifts demands accordingly / It moves pricing in TWO directions, which is key
These two points are really related. Restaurants should have the ability to charge more for primetime tables and less for off-peak tables, basically borrowing pricing strategies from the airline and hotel industries. Makes sense, but it’s a shame that you can no longer get the deeply discounted tables that we saw at Next when they first opened. I did think it was cool that Alinea offered deeply discounted tables the night of the Super Bowl.
It supports the notion that table management should be visually simple for the restaurant managers and the customer alike. And ticket systems need table management!
I’m sure that’s great for whoever is using the system at the restaurant. I have no idea how the back-end of OpenTable compares to Kokonas’ system. In terms of what the diner sees, my experience hasn’t been so “simple” when it comes to buying Next tickets.
First I have to log in to the site. Then I have to enter a Captcha. Then I have to enter another Captcha because I’ll inevitably get the first one wrong. Then I have to figure out the day, time, and pricing to book a table. I haven’t had any issues with the system accepting my credit card information, but I know others have.
When I book a reservation on OpenTable, I go to the site, enter my date and time, and I can just click right on the reservation I want for whatever restaurant I want. The whole thing takes roughly three seconds. And there’s an easy to use app if I’m not near a computer. Also, if I need to make a change, say move my time back 30 minutes or add an extra person to my party, it’s incredibly easy. I can even use any browser I want.
Kokonas’ system has to become that user friendly to really be advantageous for the diner.
It creates a direct connection between restaurant and patron.
Maybe Kokonas’ system allows restaurants to better keep track of what a diner likes or doesn’t like. In the past, before implementing the current system, Alinea did a wonderful job of this. In fact, they were pretty scary about remembering your preferences. But a lot of restaurants are good at that, particularly at the high end. If Kokonas’ system can make a restaurant even better, I say great.
It does not penalize success
Kokonas’ system doesn’t charge a restaurant per transaction. Frankly I don’t see any restaurants that use OpenTable lowering their prices if they move to Kokonas’ system, but if they want to up their profits a bit in an industry with razor thin margins, I say go for it.
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I think there are a lot of advantages for restaurants using a ticketing system that can potentially be passed along to benefit the diner. Better customer preference management, the potential to adjust pricing in a customer friendly way, and being able to keep some profits in house to invest in a better dining experience (or maybe pay for the good folks working at the restaurant).
But at the same time, advance booking and payment shifts much of the balance of power in the relationship to the restaurant. An inflexible system that can be hard to navigate really sells the diner short. Kokonas mentions that the current system is essentially a beta test so maybe some of these issues can be cleaned up. After all, there’s no reason to avoid improving on the current restaurant/reservation business model. I’m a big believer that just because something has been done a certain way in the past it doesn’t mean that it should always be done that way. Innovation is a wonderful thing, and I’d love to see Kokonas further innovate for the benefit of everyone.