A New Type Of Meal Ticket

April 24, 2013 Current Commentary Comments Off
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ticket
photo by Todd (Hryck)

No one likes being stood up. But for a restaurant, it’s not only frustrating; it can be costly.

Restaurant owners and chefs have tried various methods to deal with no-show reservations. Many restaurants now require a credit card, or even a deposit, with a reservation to discourage patrons from failing to appear.

Trois Mec, a new high-end restaurant in Los Angeles, has decided to combat the culinary equivalent of a ding-dong-ditch by instituting an unconventional system. Instead of making reservations, patrons will purchase tickets in advance on the restaurant’s website. The ticket, which covers the five-course meal and an 18 percent service charge, will be non-refundable, though it can be transferred or resold in case of a change of plans. (The inevitable emergence of restaurant ticket scalpers could be a boon to those who forget to make that special birthday or anniversary reservation until the very last minute.)

Trois Mec has a few characteristics which make it easier to implement this plan than it might be for some other establishments. For one, it is the newest venture by celebrity chefs Ludo Lefebvre, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, whose collective fame should ensure enough reservations to support the venue until it can garner word-of-mouth and reviews to drive traffic. In addition, the restaurant offers a prix fixe menu, making ticket pricing simple, and has only 26 seats to fill at a given time.

The small number of diners also means that the restaurateurs are especially worried about no-call, no-shows. If “one table doesn’t show up for each seating, that’s more than 10 percent of our business,” Krissy Lefebvre, Ludo’s wife and partner, pointed out to the Los Angeles Times. She also explained that a dining experience at Trois Mec will qualify as entertainment, for which people are accustomed to paying in advance.

I completely understand the restaurant owners’ frustration with thoughtless patrons. If someone invites me to a dinner party and I accept the invitation, it would never occur to me to simply not show up without calling and apologizing. Nor would I ever show up an hour late. If my hostess is serving dinner at eight, I will be there in time to be seated when she is ready to serve.

On the other hand, when I’m on the road and have just finished a 12-hour workday, all I want to do is park, toss some food down the chute, and go back to my hotel. In this circumstance, I have neither the time nor the inclination to plan ahead. Dinner in those conditions is an exercise in refueling, not entertainment.

People go to restaurants for all sorts of reasons. I have nothing against the idea of a certain sort of restaurant selling tickets for a specific meal at a specific time. If the occasion is festive and special enough, it will feel like an especially fancy dinner party. For restaurants that consistently deliver this experience, I expect there will be more than enough demand to support the ticketing system.

But if the occasion is less special – if the meal is late, if the service is indifferent, if the surroundings are uncomfortable – it won’t feel like a party. It will feel more like another industry that also requires customers to buy nonrefundable tickets in advance. It will feel like an airline.

Here’s a tip from a frequent traveler and a frequent restaurant patron: Nobody likes the airlines.

LA Times readers who responded to the initial story about Trois Mec seemed to display cautious optimism. But the service charge may be a sticking point. As one commenter put it, “If a restaurant wants us to pay in advance, their service better be worth it. Does the restaurant guarantee their waiters/waitresses are so good and efficient that no one would complain?” Airlines realize that repeat travelers often have no real choice but to accept subpar amenities, especially given the increasing consolidation of the industry. No restaurant will have that same assurance.

I hope Trois Mec’s plan works. It certainly could, if handled correctly. But it will be important to remember that paying in advance means restaurant-goers trust that their evening will be a special one. Restaurants who adopt this approach will need to make certain that trust is justified in order to maintain a stream of future diners.

My wife and I will celebrate our 30th anniversary this summer. Maybe I should buy my tickets now.


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