Atelier Crenn, San Francisco's second most expensive restaurant after Saison, is doing away with many of the fine-dining traditions of yesteryear. Dominique Crenn's modernist French spot has already eliminated the need to tip, and is now weighing a switch to a ticketing system that requires guests to pay for dinner at the time of booking.
"Yes, we are thinking about it. It would be wise for us to go for it," Crenn said when asked whether she might adopt Tock, the online ticketing service service founded by Alinea co-owner Nick Kokonas. "We're looking at maybe springtime. My business partner has been in talks with Nick for the last few months." Crenn had previously hinted at the possibility of adopting Tock last November in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle.
The chief benefit of pre-paid dining is its unique ability to cut down on profit-killing no-shows. Depending on how the ticketing system is implemented, diners can stand to lose the entire cost of the meal if they fail to show up for their reservation.
Other San Francisco restaurants that have adopted Tock (which is still in its pilot phase) include Daniel Patterson's Coi and David Barzelay's Lazy Bear. The system is also used at Qui in Austin, Trois Mec in Los Angeles, Elizabeth in Chicago, and will soon be in place at Thomas Keller's The French Laundry in Yountville and Per Se in New York. Most restaurants currently on Tock are prix-fixe spots that require guests to fully pre-pay for their meals, including tax and tip, when booking a table, though Tock also has options for "free" reservations, as well as deposit dining, where guests put a partial down payment on the full price of the meal to reserve seating. Regardless of how Tock is implemented, beverages and wine pairings are normally purchased at the time of dining.
A number of restaurants on Tock, including Kokonas' own Next and Alinea, employ variable pricing, charging less for tasting menus on weeknights and more during prime weekend slots. Crenn, however, says she has no plans to take advantage of that feature.
Here are a few other developments at Atelier Crenn:
1. Fewer seats: The dining room is now 30 seats, down from 40. How does Crenn plan to maintain profitability with a smaller crowd? "It's the way we're organizing our seating," she says, which will allow the restaurant to accommodate "exactly the same number [of guests] or or even more." That works out to about 30 people between 5-7:30 pm, and then another 30 from 8-9:30 pm. "Before, anyone could come at anytime they wanted. Now, we have more control over that."
2. A single menu: As reported yesterday, Crenn now only offers a single menu at $220. The shorter $140 menu, previously available on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, is no longer offered. "I want to tell my story. I don't want to tell my story halfway," she says.
3. Extended tasting options: For an extra $150, Atelier Crenn now occasionally offers an additional 3-5 courses. Depending on the night, those courses might include white truffles, live turbot, live sea urchin, or Japanese Wagyu.
4. High-end wine pairing: Under the stewardship of beverage director Jeff Bareilles (previously of Manresa), Crenn now sells a prestige wine pairing for $300, in addition to the regular $150 pairing. Bareilles is also developing a list of non-alcoholic cocktails. "A lot of my customers are non-drinkers," says Crenn, noting that anywhere from 3-5 tables choose not to imbibe each night.
5. No more surcharge: For part of last year, Crenn was levying an extra 2 percent on all bills to offset San Francisco's municipal "employer mandates" for health care and other benefits. The restaurant no longer applies that tax.