31 July 2012

Next Up in Fine Dining: Pay in Advance


Nick Kokonas got the idea for his new reservation system while listening to phones ring off the hook at his current bastion of haute cuisine, Chicago's Alinea. "If you sit in that room for a day, you'll think of it," Kokonas says. "All you have to do is hear Emily and Amanda say, 'Sorry, we're full. Sorry, we're full.'"


Instead of paying reservationists to perform customer relations that were inadvertently "pissing customers off," Kokonas came up with a revolutionary concept: an entire restaurant that wouldn't piss anyone off. There would be no hounding for reservations, and no bill dropped at the end of the meal. Kokonas has now built that restaurant - and he's even figured out an algorithm to determine the price of dinner. 

Next Restaurant, which opens this month in Chicago's hip West Town neighbourhood, is his second collaboration with the 36-year-old star chef Grant Achatz. Their six-year-old Alinea is basically the best thing that's happened to the city since Oprah: It's one of only 93 restaurants in the world to have received three Michelin stars and is ranked seventh on S. Pellegrino's list of top restaurants worldwide. Unlike Alinea, where reservation strivers have to beg to sign up to take advantage of rare last-minute cancellations, Next sends people who want to eat there to its website. There they'll be asked to pay in advance for a non-refundable meal ticket that includes food, drinks, tip, and tax. Next will serve one the matic prix fixe meal each night for a period of three months before moving on to a menu with a new theme. The first dinner - based on the cuisine of Paris, circa 1906 - will cost $65 to $110 per person (not including drinks), depending on the desirability of the reservation date and time.



By making diners do things his way, Kokonas thinks he can deliver exciting food at a lower price. Still, this worries Achatz and the other chefs, who believe in serving customers what they want. It is, however, more cost-effective not to listen to such diners. "If somebody walks in and says, 'I'm a vegan,' then there [has to be] a whole different menu," Kokonas groans to Achatz. "We lose money on that person." What about vegetarians, Achatz asks. "We're not going to serve vegetarian meals for Paris, 1906!" Kokonas says. "Come when we do Indian food!"


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Posted by Wlad

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