Monday, April 4, 2011

New dining trend? Pay for your dinner in advance

Posted By on Mon, Apr 4, 2011 at 1:58 PM

Who needs a bill when you've already paid for your meal?
  • Who needs a bill when you've already paid for your meal?


Well, really, it's not such a new trend to ask restaurant customers to pay for their meals before they even sit down: All-you-can-eat restaurants such as Old Country Buffet, Golden Corral and Chinese buffets have required advance payment for years.

But it's unusual for an upscale restaurant to ask patrons to fork over the dough before they even walk into the restaurant. Businessweek.com recently reported that Chicago restaurateur Nick Kokonas, who co-owns the successful Alinea restaurant with celebrity chef Grant Achatz, is unveiling a new venue, Next, in the Windy City this month. And the restaurant is opening with an unusual prix fixe dinner concept.

According to Businessweek.com's Joel Stein, patrons who wish to dine at Next will be required to make reservations on the new restaurant's website -- there's nothing on the site right now -- where they will be "asked to pay in advance for a nonrefundable meal ticket that includes food, drinks, tip, and tax."

The article goes on to report:

"Next will serve one thematic prix fixe meal each night for a period of three months before moving on to a new menu with a new theme. The first dinner -- based on the cuisine of Paris, circa 1906 -- will cost $65 to $110 per person (not including drinks) depending on the desirability of the reservation date and time."

There will not be a vegetarian option for the restaurant's first dinner; chef Achatz tells Businessweek.com that vegetarians will have to dine at the restaurant when there's a different, more vegetarian-friendly theme.

The concept raises all kinds of questions: Can one assume, paying a tip in advance, that the service will be impeccable? Will the prix fixe menu -- and the ingredients in each dish, for those with food allergies -- be described on the website? What if there are last-minute substitutions for menu items -- is that a deal breaker?

So, Fat City readers: Is this a good idea, a novelty, or a potential pain in the ass?


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