Anyone who has ever made a reservation at a restaurant, then, for no good reason, failed to show up – it’s you we have to blame for the latest development in the restaurant world. The ticketing system Tock – where pay for your dinner when you book the table, in the same way that you pay upfront for a sporting event, theatre or gig – launched in the US at the end of last year. It is the brainchild of Nick Kokonas, the co-owner of Alinea, Chicago’s “fun, emotional and provocative” (and, of course, hugely expensive) modernist restaurant. I wondered at the time whether it would ever find traction on British shores. And lo: the Clove Club in Shoreditch, east London, has just announced that next month it will be the first restaurant in the UK to adopt it for its £65 and £95 tasting menus.
I completely understand why restaurants would turn to Tock. In a business where margins can be squeaky-tight, the loss of a few tables every week to no-shows or what the biz calls “short-seating” – the practice of booking a table for a larger group than turns up – can mean the difference between profit and breaking even. I have spoken to restaurateurs who have bemoaned evenings when, of the 32 tables booked, only four have shown up.
Why does it happen? In big cities, concierges block-book for weeks in advance in case their wealthy overseas clients fancy dropping into the hard-to-get, hot tickets. Then there are the would-be diners who reserve three or four restaurants at a time, reckoning “we can decide which we fancy on the night”. Failing to cancel those bookings might not make a painful difference to the deep-pocketed big boys, but for the equally sought-after small independents, it can hurt badly.