Restaurants that are always booked up can be frustrating to would-be diners. But it's bad for the restaurants too--consistently selling out means they could probably charge more money, since the demand is higher than supply. Programmer Bram Cohen suggests an elegant solution, flagged by economics blogger Tyler Cowen. Cohen writes:
I've come up with a variant on dutch auctions which solves this problem quite beautifully. The restaurant continues to charge the same amounts it does currently, with the same menu, but there's a 'seating fee' for sitting down which might be charged if the restaurant sells out in advance. The amount of the seating fee is determined by when the restaurant becomes completely booked, with the fee going down the later the selling out happens, possibly going down to zero at the end. By making a reservation when the potential seating fee is a certain amount, a customer is declaring that they're willing to pay the seating fee for that time period if it is necessary, but they aren't penalized for making an early reservation unless it would have been necessary to do an early reservation to get a seat. By waiting to make a reservation until later, a customer is declaring that they are unwilling to pay a higher price, but also allowing for the possibility that the restaurant will become fully booked and they won't get a seat. One of the nice features of this system is that the reservation system is essentially unchanged, allowing for trivial support of reserving particular time slots and tables.
The Washington Post's Ezra Klein notes that, under this plan, "you'd only be charged if the restaurant was indeed full. If they didn't fill up, the reservation would be free. The practical effect of this would be that good restaurants will get more expensive." Innovative Chicago chef Grant Achatz plans to implement a similar system for his upcoming restaurant. Next Restaurant's FAQ explains the ticket system:
Instead of reservations our bookings will be made more like a theater or a sporting event. Your tickets will be fully inclusive of all charges, including service. Ticket price will depend on which seating you buy – Saturday at 8 PM will be more expensive than Wednesday at 9:30 PM. This will allow us to offer an amazing experience at a very reasonable price. We will also offer an annual subscription to all four menus at a discount with preferred seating.
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