By Charles Marvil
High-end restaurants often face the dilemma of “no-shows” and have used several creative ways of preventing this from happening. Unfortunately, the methods used, requiring the guest to provide a credit card number in advance, calling the reservation the day before to confirm and emailing a confirmation have not prevented the customer from changing his or her mind at the last moment.
When this happens in a high-end restaurant with few seats and high average checks, the effect can be damaging to the restaurant’s revenue and overall profitability. Taking a cue from the airline industry, Nick Kokonas, co-owner of Alinea, Next and The Aviary in Chicago, has created a ticketing system, Tock Software, (www.tocktix.com), that allows the customer to pre-purchase a number of seats and prix-fixe meals, thereby eliminating the economic impact of a no-show. Much like an airline, if you miss your flight/meal, you will need to rebook your ticket/dinner.
That this system benefits the restaurant is without question, however, according to Kokonas, there are also benefits to the customer, primarily transparency. In the traditional reservation booking model, a customer calls a restaurant and is frequently told, “No, I am sorry we cannot accommodate your party of 4 at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday night.”
The frustration level is significant for both the customer and the restaurateur who would like to accommodate more guests, but cannot. With the adoption of the Tock software, however, all available times and table sizes are outlined clearly on the web, and a guest can choose what available time is most suitable. Frustration is reduced, and the reservation is booked much more efficiently, with no back and forth calls or emails.
The Tock website notes that operators will enjoy the benefit of “big data.”
“There is a big difference between parsing data — how many people ordered this menu item vs. that, red wine vs cocktails, etc. — and offering up actionable data,” Kokonas says. “Check average IMO is a worthless statistic, and yet pretty much every restaurant tracks that. Here’s why: Restaurant ABC has a check average of $45pp. By changing their menu around, they now average $55pp. Looks like improvement. It’s even the case that they’ve kept the same number of customers, so revenue has gone up. However, the labor to produce the new menu has changed a great deal, and while they are only open an hour later per night (people are staying longer) the staff is also getting in earlier in the day. So at the end of the month, your POS data looks great, yet your EBITDA is lower.
“Tock tracks five points of time: arrival, seated, first food, last food, egress,” Kokonas adds. “Then we compare that over time to optimize the revenue per seat minute. This may mean, as it did at Aviary, that we should seat more three-course tastings between 6 and 7 and not even start a la carte until 7:15. Very counterintuitive, but [it] had a huge improvement in revenue per seat minute. It’s about yield management, not solely increase in revenue. And of course, the reduction in no-shows, on time arrivals, etc. is improved significantly by booking with Tock.”
Tock software works well with high-end reservation-only restaurants as well as being adaptable to less high-end, more traditional restaurants, and, in the case of The Aviary, bars.
So how does the system interface with POS systems, and how is a “deposit ticket” credited in bars?
“It’s very simple,” Kokonax says. “We issue a report via Tock crediting each deposit ticket to a check. When the server has the final a la carte bill, they simply indicate in the POS which deposit type was made and it subtracts that amount from the bill and notes it.”
The software isn’t just for high-end, reservation-only restaurants.
“Tock makes sense for all restaurants that take reservations because it is web-based, has a super clean and modern interface, is hardware agnostic and saves a great deal of money vis a vis competing systems,” he says. “More importantly it allows a restaurant to create ‘experiences’ rather than reservations, so they can easily create and market items like a chefs’ tasting menu, kitchen table, private dining or special events, and co-mingle those simply with ordinary zero-cost reservations.”
What also sets Tock apart from other, similar options is its ability to sync across restaurants within a restaurant group, not just for individual locations.
“We had cases where a great Next customer who had been in 20+ times arrives at Alinea, and the systems we had in place would not share information,” he says. “So we’ve now built Tock by restaurant group, not only restaurant. That was a huge step for us, and I believe it will solve that problem. Ultimately we want to know if a great customer comes into one of our places regardless of whether that’s in Chicago or eventually NYC or Singapore.”
Tock software is being deployed in restaurants in Chicago, San Francisco, Arizona, New York and soon in Yountville at The French Laundry. Kokonas says there are two restaurants in Atlanta that will begin using the software this summer.
The software is priced at $695/month/restaurant and is hardware neutral. Statistics provided by Tock software show that software users reduce no-show percentages from approximately 12-14 percent down to 1-3 percent, indicating that the ROI is significant in most cases. Additional data analysis and menu implementation, as shown above, also provides an additional ROI.
The question now is whether this system of booking a table, like booking an airline reservation, will catch on.