Next restaurant in Chicago

If you want a reservation at a high-end restaurant in San Francisco, you may have to pay to hold your spot. Some restaurants are adopting a new ticket system that requires patrons to pay for their reservation when they make it, reducing the risk of both no-shows and food waste. The pay-in-advance setup is already in use in Chicago and Los Angeles, where chefs had complained about losing up to $1,000 every night due to no-shows. We’ll discuss the pros and cons of the system, and how it might change your fine dining experience.

Nick Kokonas, co-owner of Alinea, Next and The Aviary in Chicago
Meesha Halm, local editor for Zagat Bay Area Restaurant Guide
Daniel Patterson, James Beard Award-winner for Best Chef in the West, chef and owner of Coi and Alta in San Francisco, and Plum Bar and Haven in Oakland
David Barzelay, chef and owner of Lazy Bear, a modern American cuisine restaurant that started as a pop-up and is switching to a brick-and-mortar location using the ticketing system

  • ES Trader

    Ridiculous, unless it is deducted from the bill ! Just make your establishments a private club with membership fees.

    Marketing, when I was in school,taught the 4P’s, (product,price,promotion and place ) and market segmentation vs. product differentiation.

    You have the choice to manage the variables to maximize your business and target your market but the consumer has the right to freely choose patronage.

    So, drop the disguise, you quack like a duck, so call it a duck.

    If the market supports you, fine and if not, why not try working at making the “product” component of the 4 P’s the focus instead of “price” ?

    At some point the bubble trend of fees for luggage on planes, sides composing of a few sprigs of sprouted broccoli(?), miniscule portions of entrees that do not qualify as hordervouss priced equivalent to what an entire meal once was, license fees in addition to season tickets, enough is enough, business is plucking the goose, feather by feather.

    The bubble you are inflating will pop like “tulipmania” ” the South Sea Bubble”, “dot com” and the “real estate” bubbles have.

    • lucytwoshoes

      The charges are deducted from the bill – you are simply pre-paying for your meal. I think it makes a lot of sense.

      • ES Trader

        I could not listen to entire segment is that the ploicy?

        I do that every year for NYE reservations, but they do not charge the account initially, which is acceptable but if this is an additional revenue source, forget it, I will not patronize

  • thucy

    It’s been interesting toggling back and forth between KQED’s radio show and WNYC’s during a summer in which crises appear to be erupting around the world and even in the US.
    On KQED’s Forum, which caters to a largely white, educated, but segregated and somewhat hedonistic listenership, an entire hour is devoted to restaurant reservations.
    On WNYC’s Brian Lehrer and Leonard Lopate shows, which must wrestle with the demands of a more racially diverse, more politically demanding and more widely read listenership, events in Ferguson as well as other more political, less hedonistic topics are daily fare.

    Lehrer’s show has featured Ferguson discussions at least twice a week. Meanwhile, the well-meaning but relatively out-of-it baby boomers who constitute the KQED listenership will no doubt have plenty of fevered opinions on… restaurant reservations.

    Forgive me for suggesting it, but there’s not a lot of “here” left here in the Bay Area… the people who would have felt the tremors emanating from Missouri were long ago pushed out.

    • rhuberry

      Restaurants, food trucks, new sidewalk cafes, restaurants opening or closing are the main topics of discussion in Berkeley, uptown Oakland, and San Francisco. No wonder they need to keep building more and more housing developments to ”increase density”. They have to have plenty of rich folks to support all this eating out.

      • thucy

        Yeah, we used to make things in this country. GREAT things. Now we just check our stock portfolios and gaze at our belly buttons. Exasperating.

        • ES Trader

          yes great products like cars that got <15mpg and required junking at 50,000 miles, television reception that looked like a snow storm,tv repairmen were busy as a bee and homes that were drafty, covered with lead paint and asbestos and energy black holes, …on 2nd thought I guess GM is maintaining the tradition of manufacturing defective cars with ignitions that lock in operation and lock up the steering wheel, reminds me of the Ford Pinto and Maverick that exploded into flames due to ill designed fuel tanks, the Chevy Corvair that was so unstable a slight x-wind would move the car into the next lane….yea" those were the days, my friend, those were the days, thought they'd never end"… was indeed superior at least

    • Whamadoodle

      But… Forum doesn’t DO “daily fare.” They do one episode per topic, and don’t often do followup. Repeating topics in “daily fare” isn’t the format of the program.

      As far as diversity, or addressing serious, life-or-death issues, I think they do very well: they did an hour on Ferguson and the militarization of police forces last Friday the 15th; yesterday they did Gaza; last week they did a show on Boots Riley, an artist of color from Oakland; Thursday they did the lack of diversity in tech company hiring; today they are doing restaurant reservations (which are commonly made here by people of color as well, by the way).

      But the fact is that Forum isn’t SUPPOSED to be a show that’s dedicated 100% to serious topics. They’re explicitly dedicated to exploring serious things, fun things, frivolous things, current events, history, ongoing events, anything else, like the Charlie Rose show. I think you’re making kind of a thin charge here.

      • ES Trader

        thucy is a one issue advocate that encompasses Palestinians and the oppression ob Blacks that requires perpetual compensation by America w/out regard to whether its self-inflicted or not with subjective statistical facts(?) that she wants everyone to see in thucy’s interpretation,,,, she KNOWS the price of everything, and unshy about vocalizing;the VALUE of which is doubtful

    • John

      Check out KALW’s Your Call.

  • Ben Rawner

    Paying to get a table is rediculous (that is classist). However, paying before the meal is actually better for the consumer so they are not surprised by how expensive their meal is. If a patron is heading to the restaurant anyway, it doesn’t make a differnce what class they are in. Could the restaurants possibly have 50% store credit for those who have emergencies or manage to miss their times?

  • rhuberry

    Meesha, please don’t link teachers and police officers in the same sentence as sort of equivalent middle class employees. Check out the salaries of each. No comparison.

    • thucy

      Thank you. SFPD was, in 2010, the highest paid urban police force in the US, at 82K plus salary and benefits and (ka-ching!) benefits. Twice as high as NYPD.

  • Guest

    I just tried to take a look at the ticketing system, but Next indicates that Internet Explorer is not supported. Paying ahead of time and being “gracious” about taking phone calls is already a stretch, but now I have to switch browsers? That’s a pretty thin line. I think the restaurant next door will suffice.

    • Royal Lichter

      Internet explorer is littered with security issues…

    • LS

      The place next door closed and Kokonas and Achatz are taking over the space.

  • Patricia

    Nonrefundable $400? That will stop me. I booked 2 months ahead for Gary Danko, then grandma died 5 days prior, I rebooked, then guests came to town so had to find a place that wasn’t booked (canceled 6 days ahead)…then finally made it! But, restaurants who do this, are those where it is a sellers more power to them. It excludes me as a customer because only those where $400 doesn’t register, will book.

    • thucy

      What other existential crises, besides the horror of restaurant reservations, will be forced upon Bay Area denizens? Surely, we are living in a bubble.

  • Morgan M.

    Similarly, a new website – – lets customers purchase wine at a discount from restaurants to be held at that restaurant until the customer comes in to dine. Another interesting way to get and keep business.

  • Roland

    Businesses LOVE the opportunity to collect payment in advance. Problem is, this leaves the diner with NO LEVERAGE to control the outcome of the transaction.


    The restaurant business is difficult and expensive already, and these ‘business’
    enterprises make money for the software / service companies but do so by
    a) taking money from the restaurants and b) squeezing the balloon to
    their advantage…

    The restaurants lose and the diners lose.

    Must we insert another business model between every existing relationship?

  • Bloopsie

    Non-refundable, non-cancelable? I see the benefit to the business but it seems the consumer gets the shaft.

    • Guest

      How is this different than buying a ticket to a music or sporting event? Non-refundable, yes. But transferable? Absolutely.

  • Barbara Coe

    I’m not one of the privileged who can regularly enjoy these high end
    restaurants but I am having a hard time understanding how advance
    payment keeps people with more limited means from enjoying the
    restaurants that require pay in advance. Either you pay in advance or
    you pay at the end. It is all the same. Either you can afford it or you
    can’t. Seems like a red herring argument, to me. In fact, it seems that,
    if it can foster variable pricing, it provides a benefit to those who
    might be able to go if the price were a bit lower.

  • Jared Gerstein

    This is a terrible idea.
    I assume this would be a contract to have my table ready at exactly the time requested.
    Not one second late. Any lateness would void the contract, or render the meal for free or at 50percent decrease in price at a minimum

    • Nick Kokonas

      yes, in a way, actually. We are able to better to plan our evening we seat people on time. If something happens and we are unable to seat you on time we don’t ‘send you to the bar’ to try to get more money out of you.. we give you champagne and apps for free… and spend time in the kitchen… etc.

  • Royal Lichter

    ESScalper: the ticket is either deducted from or in place of the bill… the idea of tickets for restaurants is not an access charge like that of Rezy, which is basically “pay us for access and also for food.” That is a shitty, inhospitable way to manage reservations and does nothing for the customer except jack up the price. Access apps are nonsense (and arguably classist)…it prioritizes the guy who has $100 to “Slip the Door Guy” so to speak over the guy who doesn’t have that.

  • OoReFLuXoO

    Boohoo, if you can afford to eat a $140+ plate of food. Which can feed my family dinners for the whole week. Then you can afford to play by there rules. You dont like it dont eat there and they will eventually change there reservation system.

  • kwildwood

    I cant believe you spent time on this 1%-er problem. LAME!

    • Root_Admin1

      I was just going to post the same – this segment is geared towards the 1%. But This is the SF market and KQEDs market nowadays.

    • Whamadoodle

      Oh come ON, already. I know many people who make lower-middle class livings who like fine dining in the Bay Area. What is this “1%-er problem” claim?

      Sure, people who are really in poverty, and can only afford rice and beans, can’t afford to go. Yes, they should get SOME of Forum’s airtime. But no, they shouldn’t get all of it. The middle class should get some as well. What’s with everyone ordering everyone to follow these strict rules against covering anything that poor people can’t afford?

      • kwildwood

        Ok, not really where I was going with that, but fair enough. Surely though there are more interesting topics to explore for Bay Area residents (regardless of class) that whether or not you have to “pre-pay” for your $150.00 dinner? PS, if you do encounter this issue regularly enough that it poses and actual “problem” for you, then you probably need a reality check about what constitutes lower middle class…

        • Whamadoodle

          Well which problem? If you mean the problem that the restaurateurs have, that people are skipping on their reservations, then I actually NEVER encounter it as a middle-class person, nor do any of the lower-middle class people I spoke of, because we’re not restaurant owners.

          But as far as being an interesting topic, food in San Francisco is for me one of the greatest points of pride about the whole place, along with its natural beauty and history. I find our gastronomy VERY interesting, and like to hear about new developments in it. The show likes to address a wide variety of aspects of our lives.

          It sort of just seems as if you’re saying “well _I_ don’t find this interesting, and poor people can’t share it, so they shouldn’t air it.” For myself, I don’t find the threatening species segment interesting, but should I raise the roof saying “If it doesn’t interest me, then nobody else should want to hear it either!”?

          • kwildwood

            Ha! You are absolutely right _I_ don’t find it interesting! I thought that this was an appropriate place to express that – guess I was wrong!

          • Whamadoodle

            Heh. OK, then, fair enough on that score, too.

            But I also get to say “come ON, already,” and “I DO find it interesting,” in that case. We can finish this off by sticking out our tongues at each other and going “nyah!” “NYAH!” if you like.

  • doughboy

    I’m reminded of a scene from Steve Martins LA Story where he has to go to a creditor with the chef to figure out what he will be allowed to eat. Are we going this way?

    In all seriousness I think it’s pretty easy to vote with your wallet on this. I recall looking for a new dentist and being asked for a credit card as a deposit. It wasn’t how I wanted to start a relationship based on trust so I moved on.

  • Steve

    I took a trip to chicago and tried the reservation system at Alinea, and while I was initially skeptical, I ended up a big fan. I could see all my reservation options on one screen, I had no problem getting a reservation, and at the end of the meal, there was no discomfort or uncertainty about who was paying or how much to tip. In contrast, to go to French laundry for an anniversary some years ago, I had to call three months in advance every morning at 10 or 11 am for at least a half hour to get through for several days in a row. I finally did get a reservation. Then the night of, there was some discomfort about whether to add more tip for the excellent service, because there was a line for it on the bill even though it was supposedly included. Both meals were equally amazing, but I prefer alinea’s system.

  • Bonnie

    The comments about running the business better miss the mark! No-shows are costing me, the consumer money. The restauranter has to pay for the food and the labor to prepare for the no-shows and if they don’t pay, then the rest of the diners have to pay. this seems much fairer to me!

  • Root_Admin1

    I hope this policy stays in the high end entitled restaurants. I would be bummed if my hole in the wall place started instituting this policy. Talk about being held hostage!

  • lucytwoshoes

    No one has mentioned the benefit to the customer in that other people are not holding up reservation spots and not using them. I’d much rather know that I can’t get a reservation because others are dining rather than because other people are simply saving spots that they will end up ditching. If you don’t show, you have made it impossible for other customers to get in. This system actually opens doors.

  • Mrs. Eccentric

    oh, delete this if you must for not being up to community guidelines – but the ‘world traveler’ who appreciates ‘fine dining’ and is ‘comfortable with technology’ sounds like exactly the type of boob i’d pay to avoid in a restaurant.

    which makes me view this new development, inevitable though it may be, slantwise. steph

  • tim

    How long until i find top restaurants seating charts, times, prices and will get tickets in the mail from stubhub or ticketmaster??? Seems to be what your guest is describing

  • sschultz

    Kudos! Small businesses are generally littered with
    inefficiencies. Restaurants are just the
    tip of the iceberg. Fixed pricing on all goods needs
    to go away and the technology has been here to help this die.

  • sstanley

    I’m 65 yrs old and have never made a res. and not shown up or not cancelled when necessary. I understand last minute catastrophes, but who are these people who just don’t show up?! Another example of declining manners?

    • Danielle

      Yes! There is absolutely a decline in manners.

  • AE

    While I dearly want there to be bio-dynamic farms out there,
    and I do support the culinary and agricultural crafts— my partner and I no
    longer enjoy eating out here in the Bay Area in the slightest, especially as we
    watch the exodus of art institutions, teachers and scientists.

    My partner works in technology and makes a high salary,
    however I am an artist and (although I currently have work up in one of the
    major museums in the area). I make much much more waiting tables 20 hours a
    week at these same fine restaurants then I ever could in as an artist here in
    the Bay Area, even if I were teaching in the best institutions and awarded the
    highest accolades the Bay Area has for its artists, this is depressing and

    Whenever we do splurge to head out for a nice dinner, we
    always feel like as nice as it was- its not worth the price— comparative to all
    the other things we could be spending our money on here in the bay area, and in
    communities where those resources would be much better appreciated.

    Frankly, I think Ill just mute the radio for the next little bit until the program on invasive species comes on.

  • John

    White people problems.

    • Whamadoodle

      I know several people of color who also eat out.

  • Whamadoodle

    Cracking up on all the people below freaking out. Oh my God! Forum is talking about something that may be used for high-end restaurants! Call the police!

  • erictremont

    Along with 2-bedroom apartments renting for $4,000 a month or more, this is another indicator that San Francisco’s economy is overheated and the bubble may be about to burst.

  • My thoughts are that the article as presented is not really a socioeconomic issue but one of supply and demand. There is an emerging trend where the most sought after reservations are now commanding a premium in much the same way concert tickets, sporting events, etc. are sold at a premium. In many ways chefs are becoming the new rockstars and the restaurants are the highly sought after venues that those who can buy seats at a premium. With the innovations in technology the entire process moves at the speed of a click and there will be many different providers with differing business models and the market will sort it all out, always has, always will.

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