Looking to squelch revenue draining no-shows, and cultivate customer relations, upscale restaurants in the North Bay are moving away from traditional online reservation platforms to a system, where dinners are paid for in advance, much like tickets to a ballgame or concert.
Developers of Tock say the system makes no-shows a rarity. Some restaurant owners say it is more flexible and hospitality industry friendly.
The system is even gaining ground with wineries, where no-shows for tastings can run 30 to 40 percent.
Restaurants that have embraced Tock include St. Helena’s Restaurant at Meadowood, Single Thread in Healdsburg, and Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, in Yountville. Keller is also an investor in the system.
Chef Kyle Connaughton and his wife Katina opened Single Thread in December, 2016, and said Tock was the only reservation system they considered.
The restaurant serves an 11-course meal, tailored to guests preferences. The 3-1/2 hour dining experience begins on the rooftop garden for aperitifs and first courses. Guests then proceed downstairs to the main dining room for the rest of the meal.
Reservations at Single Thread cost $293 per person. The price includes service and tip but does not include beverages. Those options include a non-alcoholic pairing for $98 per person, a wine pairing for $202, or the reserve pairing for $385 per person. Those who don’t want to commit ahead of time can opt to speak to the sommelier upon arrival.
The restaurant holds 55 for a one-time seating, and a no-show party of four would put a sizeable dent in the evening’s revenue, Connaughton said. With Tock, if a guest needs to cancel a reservation they can give it to a friend, or the restaurant can access its waiting list. But because the meal is already paid for, there is no financial loss for that reservation.
“It’s very, very, very rare that a guest cancels at the last minute and a ticket gets unused. If they do, it’s like having tickets to a concert. The band plays on without you,” Connaughton said.
While for the restaurant there’s very little risk or downside to the prepaid system, feedback from guests has also been overwhelmingly positive, he said.
“Our clientele understands the booking is like for a concert. It’s a different dining experience, not just ‘I’m here, feed me,’” Connaughton said.
Tock is more than just a means of securing payment, however. It is a means by which an establishment can build a relationship with the guest before they arrive.
Single Thread’s booking department reaches out to guests about dietary requests and restrictions, allergies, and any special celebrations. Staff also engages with guests in concierge services, providing information on wineries, hotels, other restaurants, and other things to see and do in the area.
“It all builds a positive expectation before the guest arrives,” Connaughton said.
Another advantage is that the least enjoyable part of the meal — paying for it — is already done.
“It takes away the transactional part of the stay. You just arrive, enjoy the experience, and get up and leave like you’re coming to our home for a dinner party versus (the guest thinking) the goal is for us to take your money,” Connaughton said.
With a secure number of reservations, restaurants also run more efficiently and waste less food.