Earlier in the year I wrote about how technology is changing the restaurant industry for CODE Quarterly and I spoke about the american ticketing system Tock, since then The Clove Club have taken on the system. Ticketing systems within restaurants is a topic that elicits strong opinions for and against, and has many in the industry curious about how it can work.
I doubt there is much argument that it is something that will work in some establishments and not in others, but how big is the range of where it will work? Places that are akin to The Clove Club in it’s set menus structure, such as Lyle’s and Typing Room, are not employing the system and seem to have made a conscious decision not to.
It can be argued that this style of dining is more an ‘event’ than a ‘dinner’. Essentially you buy a ticket and then experience a show. I don't think this is entirely true as the stars of the show are often inanimate objects, food and/or wine, but I have always felt that dinning out has similarities to the performance and art world; it can be emotional, it can be surprising, service is performative and - it is a live, anything can go wrong!
Why does ticketing systems work? Firstly there is the obvious fact of being able to plan - what to order, what bottles of wine to open and breathe.. the restaurant is prepared, ‘rehearsed’ if you will. Because of planning the restaurant can elevate the dinning experience to exactly what they want guests to experience.
At The Clove Club there is a small room for change, you can order the bigger menu, you can decide your wine on the night. Choosing wine on the evening means you can be reflective of who you are dinning with, the time of day, the time of year, the weather; and whether or not you just need martini after martini… I chose to have the wine pairing, because I like learning about different wines, I like being surprised (of course the wine pairing could be pre-ordered/paid for too).
Our server told us that they had decided this year to not turn tables in the restaurant. This is an exceptional detail that means the service has the ability to be very personal, reflective and responsive to the individual tables. It is a decision that is helped with good planning and knowing there wont be no-shows!
The reason we eat out, share meals with friends and family, is because we want to connect with each other. We also find food and wine pleasurable. A good meal is one where the food and wine are talking points, but not the only point of conversation. A meal is a place to hear news, swap stories, take the time to catch up with friends or family; it is a place to break all the rules of polite conversation and then make up by the time dessert comes around. What sort of dinner party is it if Karl Marx has not been sworn at or swoon about - not one I want to be at!
Therefore time, space and environment is as important as what is being served. The personable, unfussy, but detailed service at The Clove Club and the ability to ensure tables take the time they want, means that the experience is more than just exceptional food, it is about people sharing something together. It isn’t only diners that are a part of this shared experience, this level of service is a pleasure to be part of and is what makes the hospitality industry a valid, special and expert career path.
It is probably important to observe that The Clove Club didn’t introduce Tock until they had reached a certain level of both culinary reputation and business stability. But, with all this in mind, my conclusion is that if a ticketing system lets The Clove Club exist in the way I experienced my meal, than this style ticketing system is not just worth doing, but necessary to do for this particular restaurant.