Check (First) Please!

Would you pay for a meal before you've eaten it?

Is there a chef whose food you think is good enough to pay for before you even set foot in his restaurant? Grant Achatz, chef of Chicago’s Alinea, is betting his customers will pony up in advance at his upcoming restaurant, Next. According to an article in today’s New York Times, the avant-garde chef will require guests to pay for the meal when they make a reservation, much in the same way one pays for a ticket to the theater ? or, more precisely, buys an airline ticket online, with discounts for booking at less popular times.

According to the Times:

“Anyone wishing to eat at Next after its scheduled opening in the fall will pay in advance on its Web site. Like airlines, Next will offer cheaper tickets for off-peak hours. A table at 9:30 on a Tuesday night, say, would cost less than one for Saturday at 8. Ticket prices will also vary based on the menu, but will run from $45 to $75 for a five- or six-course meal, according to the site,”

Achatz explains his reasoning:

“We now pay three or four reservationists all day long to basically tell people they can’t come to the restaurant,” Mr. Achatz said of Alinea. With Next, he intends to strip away those and other hidden costs of dining out. “It allows us to give an experience that is actually great value,” he said. “That’s the theory.”

Sure, that’s the theory, but is it tenable? It requires a willingness on the part of the diner to relinquish control ? or at least the illusion of control ? over their meal. It certainly requires the diner to put a great deal of trust in the chef. Diners often balk at a mandatory service charge for large parties, how will they feel about a paying for a meal before they’ve even arrived at the restaurant? What if you don’t enjoy your meal? Will the restaurant refund your money?

The idea of not having to deal with a check at the end of the night might appeal to some, but, ultimately, restaurants are in the service industry and shouldn’t the customer retain the right to actually experience the service before paying for it? How would you feel about pre-paying for a haircut or a massage? Of course, we do pay for theater, movie and live music show tickets in advance ? perhaps restaurants now belong more in the category of entertainment than service.

Would something like this fly in Philly? Are there any local chefs whose skills you trust enough to fork over your money in advance?

In Chicago, the Chef Grant Achatz Is Selling Tickets to His New Restaurant [NYT]

Photo: via Flickr/atduskgreg