Daniel Patterson's North Beach fine-dining flagship, Coi, will be among the first U.S. restaurants, and the first in San Francisco, to begin using a dining-ticketing system pioneered by Chicago restaurants Next and Alinea.
Epicurious first reported in May that restaurateur Nick Kokonas, who's partnered with celebrity chef Grant Achatz on both Next and Alinea, was contemplating selling the proprietary system to an unnamed company for use at other restaurants for something like $60 million. Now Eater reports that Coi is signing on to use the system starting September 1, and this could mark a sea change in the way restaurants do business, at least at the high end.
Just to back up for a minute, the ticketing system was devised in 2011 when Next first opened. Next was Achatz's ever-changing spinoff concept after Alinea, in which the menu and entire theme framework of the restaurants shifts every six months themes have included Paris 1906, Thailand, Chicago Steak, and Modern Chinese. Buzz around the new restaurant was so huge, and the existing reservation system so flawed, that Kokonas decided he should treat tables at Next like non-refundable seats at a concert or sporting event commodities that can be traded, with variable pricing depending on the season or demand. The experiment proved so economically successful, eliminating the need for reservationist staff and decreasing the number of no-shows, that the more high-end Alinea adopted the system in 2012.
SFist recently reported on ReservationHop, a local startup that used Kokonas's ticket concept to inspire a reservations-for-sale system that they also purported would decrease no-shows, but their system, of course, only really works for places that don't already take deposits for reservations. Also, no restaurant wants to see revenue for their reservations going into someone else's pocket, given that profit margins are slim as it is (5 to 15 percent for most restaurants).
Coi is one of San Francisco's most respected and sought-after restaurants, maintaining two Michelin stars and remaining a constant on the annual list of the World's Best Restaurants.
Pricing at Coi will be similarly variable as it is at Alinea, with the dinner prix fixe dropping by as much as 25 percent in slower months so the same $195 tasting menu might be $145 during quiet restaurant months like January. Also, if you're willing to dine earlier or later, at 5:30 p.m. or 9:30 p.m. as opposed to to the prime times of 7 p.m. or 8 p.m., tickets will be similarly discounted. The concept has been a winning one for Next and Alinea because even at the hottest, most-sought-after restaurants, people still tend to want to eat at certain times and on weekends, moreso than on weekdays at early hours.
In a statement, Patterson says, "We believe that the variable pricing, transparency, and ease of purchasing tickets online will have multiple benefits for guests."
It's likely that more restaurants will follow suit as Kokonas's ticketing software is made available, since many have had complaints about OpenTable, and most would prefer to have an internal system that runs off of their own website without having to pay commissions for every reservation. The ticketing system is already in place at Los Angeles restaurant Trois Mec, which is a partnership between Animal chefs Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook and roving celebrity chef Ludo Lef3bvre.