London Restaurant Will Be U.K.'s First Where Diners Buy Tickets
A restaurant in London's Shoreditch is to become the first in the U.K. to introduce a system in which diners must purchase tickets in advance—as for a sporting event or the theater—rather than booking a table in the conventional way.
Clove Club Chef Isaac McHale said customers regularly fail to show up or else arrive in fewer numbers than specified on the reservation. In the future, guests will pay for meals when they book, and it will be their loss if they don't come along to eat.
"It's going to ruffle a few feathers," he said in an interview. "But everyone has a problem with no shows and short-seated tables. The more ambitious your restaurant, the more money you spend on ingredients and staff, and you want to keep prices down. We tend to have very high break-evens."
Clove Club will initiate the switch in April, starting with software designed by restaurateur Nick Kokonas of Alinea, in Chicago. It will later move to a newer system, Tock, which is being pioneered by Kokonas, with backing from chef Thomas Keller of Per Se and Twitter Chief Executive Dick Costolo. Diners will purchase tickets via the restaurant's website.
For dinner, Clove Club offers tasting menus at 65 pounds ($97) and 95 pounds and is usually crowded. It holds a Michelin star for its seasonal British menu and is a favorite with chefs and the food crowd. Diners will pay for their food in advance and be free to purchase drinks on the night.
The system allows restaurants to charge more at premium times, such as midevening. It's not clear if Clove Club will do this. There are normally spare tables at lunchtime, when diners will be free to show up without tickets.
"Dining is such a part of everybody's lives that it means everybody has strong opinions on it," McHale said. "There are going to be lots of strong opinions on this system, for better or worse. I want to continue to give people a great experience when they come here, and I hope this system will allow us to give them a better experience. That's all I'm interested in."
Chance of Success
Chef Wylie Dufresne used Tock to rack up $41,000 in ticket sales in two minutes for closing dinners at wd-50 in New York, according to Eater.com. The French Laundry and Coi are among U.S. restaurants adopting a ticketing system, Eater said. London restaurateurs regularly complain about customers not showing up. This particularly hurts at such establishments as Kitty Fisher's, which are small and popular. At larger restaurants, such as Chiltern Firehouse, no-shows are largely an annoyance.
Other London chefs will watch Clove Club closely. If the system catches on, the nights when last-minute tables become available at hot restaurants may be coming to an end.
Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Bloomberg. Follow him on Twitter @richardvines.