Forcing Diners To Buy Advance Restaurant Tickets Is A Massive Mistake

Ben Norum
By Ben Norum Last edited 32 months ago
Forcing Diners To Buy Advance Restaurant Tickets Is A Massive Mistake

Hot ticket: The Clove Club

Yesterday, Michelin-starred Shoreditch restaurant The Clove Club announced it will replace traditional bookings with tickets — we’ve got some reservations.

From April onwards diners at The Clove Club will have to purchase tickets for their meal in advance, paying up-front for their food in the same way they would for a gig or a performance at the theatre. Any no-shows or cancellations with less than 24 hours’ notice will forfeit £65 per head.

There are several restaurants in major cities in the US which operate such policies, but this is the first time it’s been tried in the UK. With no-shows being a major source of revenue loss for the restaurant industry, the appeal of such a system is understandable — but at what cost? If ticketed restaurants catch on, it could be devastating for London’s relatively fledgling dining scene.

Our first concern is one of spontaneity — tickets will kill it. How many times in the last month would you have taken the plunge and pre-paid for dinner for an exact number of people, knowing that you’d lose your cash if plans changed or someone pulled out? Probably significantly fewer times than you ended up eating out impromptu post a couple pints with your mates, or after work when you couldn’t face Tesco Express.

Then there’s the issue of cost. Of course, there’s no necessity for the tickets to be expensive, but they do lend themselves towards a ‘set price’ meal rather than a la carte and in many restaurants this equates to lengthy — and pricey — tasting menus. Inevitably, those with more cash to burn will also be less put-off by the risk of losing money should they have to cancel at the last minute.

And there is a darker side to consider. These ticketing systems have the capability of varying the price of tickets according to demand and at premium times, in much the same way that hotels, airlines and the controversial cab company Uber does.

This would mean that diners on a budget might feel forced to eat inconveniently early or late to save some pounds, and that in some restaurants a peak time Saturday night dinner could become the preserve of the rich. No longer would advance booking guarantee you the spot you want, you'd need to flash the cash. Such a system — at its worst — could lead to a time-sensitive financial apartheid in London’s restaurants.

When considering the potential impact of ticketing, it’s worth looking at the relative recency of London’s inclusive food scene. Not much more than ten years ago most of the capital’s well-respected restaurants were stuffy affairs with starched white tablecloths, snooty waiters, intimidating wine lists and prices out of range for most people on anything but a special occasion. The alternative was stodgy pub grub, chains, curry houses and cafs. With some exceptions, dining out was a minority sport.

It took restaurants like Polpo and Burger & Lobster to prove that good food and good service could come at a good price, and that you didn’t need to be rich to eat out on a whim on a Tuesday night. Numerous gastropubs across town now offer affordable meals of a very high standard, and the march of street food on the capital has opened our eyes to seriously great grub without the scary price tag.

Being a foodie is currently more affordable than ever, but strict, off-putting ticketing rules and systems designed to capitalise on prime seats risks making eating out less accessible and pushing our restaurant scene back to the dark ages.

There are some positives. It’s usually the most forward-thinking and creative restaurants which have the biggest outgoings, and often these places don’t have that many covers either. The cost to these restaurants of no-shows can be substantial, and eliminating this would — theoretically — allow them to pour more resources into developing dishes, hiring talent and buying the best quality ingredients.

But great restaurants are nothing without a great restaurant scene. Or if only tourists and the rich can afford to eat in them. Tickets might seem like a winner for restaurants, but in the long-term we reckon it will be London that loses out.

Let's throw the book(ings) at them before it's too late.

Are you a restaurateur or a restaurant-goer? What do you think of tickets versus bookings? Let us know in the comments below.

Last Updated 31 March 2015

Nicolas Chinardet

The "dining scene" in London can be called many things, I'm sure, but "fledgling" is not one of them...

That said: bad idea, yes. The restaurant that asks me to buy ticket will not get my patronage.

peter bartlett

A ridiculous notion. I predict that they will have to revisit this decision , and soon.

SVC

I'm not sure spontaneity is a concern in this case. How many times have you spontaneously turned up to a popular, fashionable, Michelin-starred restaurant without a reservation?

DB

I can remember in the late 90s restaurants taking credit card details with a large party bookings and would charge you for diners who didn't turn up. This is the same principle revisited. And only the restaurants with long waitlists will be able to get away with it. Can't see my local curryhouse doing this somehow.

parkylondon

Well, I for one, won't be eating there anytime soon. It's a stupid idea to get people to pay for their meal up front. Not me.

Killer Tomato

I'm amazed noone in the UK has done this before, but it will only be taken up by a tiny minority of restaurants. Namely, fine-dining places serving up tasting menus that book up weeks or months in advance and turn away far more diners than they can accommodate. For them - especially small places like the Clove Club or Sushi Tetsu - no-shows are crippling and I don't blame them for trying to stop it.

Mark

Sorry, but I have to disagree.

There are many great restaurants in London where you have to book months in advance for a spot (eg: the ever-elusive Sunday brunch booking for Duck and Waffle). I would vouch that a significant minority of these tables are booked up by people because it's a free option that they can cancel at a later date once their plans firm up nearer the time.

Forcing people to put cash upfront is a great way to weed out speculative bookings, and keep tables open for people who genuinely commit to going. The ability to cancel 24 hours in advance means that if your plans change you won't get stung - and opens up a few last-minute tables.

As for spontaneity - when was the last time you stumbled into the Clove Club on the way back from the pub? I think it's fair to say that cheaper places (BTW: Polpo ain't cheap) won't be able to convince people to pay upfront, so I'd be surprised if such a system went far beyond the Michelin crowd in London.

Wilko

I think I dislike this less than the no bookings, just queue trend.

John

What, then, is the difference between this proposal and the long-established system of taking ones credit card details in advance, so that a charge can be made for a no-show?

Gibbons

Anyone willing to pay £65 in advance is a fool - but isn't that part of the charm of places like The Clove Club? Make people think they are special and that The Clove Club is also so achingly special and they'll pay anything to eat there.

After all whats £65 a head even if you don't go? And the best part is you can tell and share with your followers that you didn't go, even though you'd paid in advance - how cool is that?

I'm sure I read something similar in Gibbons Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, but I could be mistaken. Just another example of the excesses of hipster culture, I'm afraid.

TD

I don't understand why they can't just take a deposit and your credit card details like Pied a Terre does and if you cancel in less than 48 hours, you lose your deposit. I think that's fair because anywhere that is really good, usually has a waiting list with people chomping at the bit to get table. I have often called restaurants to try get a table last minute in the hope that someone has cancelled and I have never had any luck.

Anato

Don't really understand the value of a ticket system beyond the traditional credit card details/deposit practices, other than a sure fire way of trapping the customer in depending on how hard they make it to get a refund.

It will definitely kill spontaneity if it extends to more casual restaurants and hope it doesn't catch on. Not all food needs to be treated like a show or event. Sometimes I just want it to be an unobtrusive, unplanned part of my evening out.

Greg Tingey

DIsagree re poor food 10 years ago - really good Pub & restaurant food could easily be had then - & 10 years before that.
However ....
Iagree that this is a potential rip-off that should be resisted.
If you ask for pre-paid tickets you can eff off, as far as I'm concerned ...

peter bartlett

No surprise to find it has a highly pretentious website with elements that that fade out and segue veeeeerrry sloooowly to suggest gravitas.

Sophie Williams

Its interesting to see that its now seen as the most successful restaurant in London