The iconic French Laundry in Yountville has confirmed dates for a planned closure and major renovation, and the plans are a fair bit more ambitious than originally hinted at. As chef-owner Thomas Keller tells the SF Chronicle, what began as some modifications to the restaurant's entry and an expansion of the kitchen blossomed into a major overhaul and reconstruction of the kitchen which will begin the week after Christmas and won't be complete for about six months. In the meantime he hopes to have the restaurant reopened in an "under construction" mode starting in the spring.
How do you operate a three-star Michelin restaurant in "under-construction" mode? Well, it's going to happen by way of a temporary kitchen that will be built inside four shipping containers on site. The restaurant will then operate by way of this kitchen set-up until the renovations are complete, sometime in late summer or early fall 2015. Keller says the project is all part of an effort to improve the guest experience. "We are redeveloping the way we touch our guests" is how he puts it, and of course he doesn't mean that literally.
In other news, just as Coi did earlier this year, the French Laundry will be adopting the "ticket"-based reservation system pioneered by Chicago restaurants Next and Alinea and chef Grant Achatz's partner Nick Kokonas. Now being marketed as a standalone OpenTable competitor, the system now called Tock will roll out at Thomas Keller's two flagships, the Laundry and New York's Per Se, next spring, allowing customers not to have to use the telephone reservation system that has frustrated Napa-bound foodinistas for over a decade now.
Keller tells Inside Scoop that he doesn't see the system as ticket-based so much as just a new online system that will keep people from having to get a busy signal on the reservation line every morning starting at 10 a.m. (when reservations for the day two months out become available). The new system will come into play when the restaurant reopens in the spring.
But unlike restaurants like Coi which are not so constantly in high demand and where ticket prices will vary throughout the year or at different timeslots in an evening to offer incentives to diners, the French Laundry will not be using variable pricing. Kokonas told Eater NY that the system at the French Laundry and Per Se will work just like it does at Alinea, with diners' prix fixe meals paid in full ahead of time. But Tock's "toolbox" of option, when the system fully launches, will allow restaurants to offer regular, non-prepaid reservations as well as event tickets, fully prepaid prix fixes, and dynamic ticket reservations as well.
The prepaid ticket system was invented by Kokonas not only to save his restaurant costs related to hiring reservationists, but also to reduce no-shows the idea being that people are far less likely to flake when they've already paid in full, the way they would for a concert ticket. This of course works less well for more casual restaurants, but at higher end fine dining spots where dining room turnover is slower in a given night, no-shows tend to impact the bottom line far more.
Also using the system now in SF is new Mission prix-fixe spot Lazy Bear, and chef Dominique Crenn says she's considering adopting it at Atelier Crenn as well.
This post has been updated throughout.