Inside the El Bulli Black Market

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It may seem like spending $365 for a dinner is an extravagance, but the lucky folks who snagged tickets for the El Bulli-replicating dinner series at the Chicago restaurant Next could stand to turn tidy profit if they choose to resell them.  El Bulli was a Michelin three-star restaurant in Spain that closed in 2011, and the limited time only recreation of its menu in Chicago has, as we predicted, become the hottest restaurant reservation in the country. Offered through its web site, tickets sold out quickly through; co-owner Nick Kokonas estimated people "to be there within 8 to 10 seconds to have a shot." But there's now a booming secondary market on Craigslist for table reservations.  Most of the posts are seeking, not offering tickets, and in any market where demand exceeeds supplies, pirces can skyrocket. One poster offered $1,000, seeking either a two-top or four-top, not specifying whether the amount was per ticket or for the whole package. A seller asked $2,900 for a four-top, leaving the door open for better offers. We're assuming that sold, as an email to the address got returned with a note saying the ad was no longer active. Still another poster offered $1,500 for two tickets, writing, "Will pay a 500 dollar premium (it is my BF's 30th birthday) and we are visiting Chicago."

Kokonas is not entirely upset about the scalpers. The entire point of selling tickets instead of taking reservations, he told The Atlantic Wire, is to prevent him from having empty tables due to no-shows. "At Alinea [the other insanely over-booked Chicago restaurant Kokonas owns with Next partner Grant Achatz], people would make reservations and then they would call two hours beforehand and say our babysitter didn’t show up, we’re canceling," he said. "I’ve got 20 tables eating that night, and now five percent of our customers are not showing. ... Even though we have a wait list of over 100 people, who’s going to be ready on two hours' notice to eat a 20-course dinner?" 

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By selling tickets, he gets his money up front, and the people who buy them are able to sell them if their plans change (or the market tempts them with high prices). Which is not to say scalping is allowed. "We do what we can to discourage the scalping, and once I find out who the scalpers are I delete their account. But you can’t preemptively delete the scalpers," Kokonas said. "If we see people who are constantly buying and selling tickets and they’re never coming into dine," that's a giveaway. "Yesterday I identified positively somebody who was trying to scalp. It was a ticket broker from out of state, and I turned it over to our attorney."

Kokonas said there's no problem with ticket holders re-selling tickets (he'd prefer it be at face value). "There are thousands of people who are acting to get tickets to this," he said, and he wants those who are truly fans of the restaurant and active on its website and Facebook page to get the best chance. "It doesn’t really make a difference to us, but in the long run it’s good for customer relations," Kokonas said. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.