Ticket to Dine: Why This Chef ‘Uberized’ His Michelin-Starred Restaurant

Are dinner tickets the future of dining?

By: Eric Kim


Photo by: gregory_lee


Would you eat at a restaurant if you had to foot the entire bill in advance?

Turns out it’s not that wild of a concept. More and more Michelin-starred restaurants like Eleven Madison Park in New York and Alinea and Acadia in Chicago are converting to a ticketing system where diners reserve their tables by paying for the entire meal weeks, sometimes months, ahead of the booking — even the waiter’s tip.

Think of it like a Broadway ticket, or seats to a baseball game. We have no reservations about purchasing these, yet the idea of paying for food one has yet to ingest is something we’re still getting used to. So why are restaurants bothering with ticketing sites like Tock when the rest of the world is on reservation services like OpenTable?

Acadia Chef Ryan McCaskey likens it to Uber: “I like the idea of the diner not having to worry about the bill at the end of the night, especially after a great meal.”

The focus, then, gets placed on the experience of the dinner — as more than just sustenance, but as an event in and of itself.

Though this might seem like a precedent for the postmodern death of the server and the end of his or her services, McCaskey argues that this unburdening in fact frees up the wait staff so they can focus on more important things like wine pairings, conversation and narrative. The diner, in turn, gets to benefit on what really matters: the food.

The convenience of a prepaid reservation is a benefit to the restaurant, as well. People are less likely to back out. Every year restaurants lose thousands of dollars on no-shows and cancellations. But tickets, like security deposits, guarantee a diner’s commitment. No refunds.

Jessica Coen sums it up well: “[I]f Beyoncé doesn’t give [refunds] for her live performances, why should a Michelin-starred chef?”

McCaskey had reservations about this model for Acadia. He felt that there was a need — no matter how much we’ve automated the service industry and food culture at large — for a little wiggle room. Because life happens.

At Acadia, there are no refunds. But should you be unable to make a ticketed reservation, you have up to a year to reschedule your dinner. The ticketing system requires commitment, but it’s not an ironclad fist. Acadia even accepts walk-ins (though reservations are encouraged), especially at off-times. A 5 ’o clock booking will cost you less than a 7 or 8 ’o clock.

If ticketing is, truly, the future of dining, then maybe it’ll catch up in the way that car services like Uber and Lyft have monopolized transportation in metropolitan cities. The question here is whether or not people consider food an event.

They say food culture is culture. And if that’s the case, it’s no wonder then that America is finally starting to take dinner seriously and treat it as it should be — like a Beyoncé concert.

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Photo: iStock

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