Thomas Keller's Per Se in New York and The French Laundry in Napa Valley, two of America’s most expensive and best-reviewed restaurants, will join the small but growing ranks of culinary establishments asking guests to pay for their tasting menus at the time of booking, rather than at the conclusion of the meal. That's according to Nick Kokonas, the founder of the new ticketing service that both venues will adopt next year.
Starting in the spring, both of Keller’s three Michelin-starred spots will switch from OpenTable, the industry leader in online reservations, to Tock, Kokonas’ upstart booking service that’s set to launch in the first quarter of 2015. A pilot version of that system has been in place for years at Alinea and Next, two of the Chicago eateries that Kokonas owns with chef Grant Achtaz, as well at a handful of restaurants across the country, including Coi in San Francisco, Trois Mec in Los Angeles, and, during its final services, WD~50 in New York. The benefits of pre-paid dining include providing restaurants with a more steady cash flow up front, as well as cutting down on profit-killing no show diners.
For reservations, "Per Se and The French Laundry will work exactly like Alinea. Pre-purchase of the tasting menu, phone call to every guest," Kokonas wrote in an email yesterday afternoon. Individual beverages or wine pairings will be purchased at the restaurant.
One aspect of the Kokonas system that The French Laundry, at least, will not use is dynamic pricing, according to Inside Scoop SF. That policy lets restaurants adjust the cost of a meal according to the day and time. Alinea, for example, charges as little as $210 for dinner earlier in the week, and as much as $275 during peak hours. But The French Laundry, like most tasting menu spots, charges a single price throughout the week, $295 for lunch and dinner. Per Se, in turn, asks $310, with two shorter options available at lunch. Service is included at both restaurants.
How will a pre-paid system be received at either restaurant? A table for two at The French Laundry currently ranks among the country's most difficult bookings; there's surely a deep bench of prospective guests who'd be willing to put up the funds necessary to dine there long in advance. As for Per Se, same-day or same-week bookings are not difficult to obtain for most party sizes.
The Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare is currently the only other major New York restaurant that employs a pre-paid dining model, though guests are only charged the full menu price ($255, plus service) about a week before dinner, not at the time of booking.
Update: It should be noted that the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group have declined to comment on pricing and payment policies under Tock.