Saison by Joshua Skenes, San Francisco's most expensive restaurant, will become the latest Bay Area establishment to ask guests to pay for dinner in full at the time of booking. The three-Michelin-starred venue has partnered with Square to sell chef's counter tickets, inclusive of food, beverages and service. The current price is listed at $888 per person. Guests will still be able to make reservations for the regular dining room via phone or on OpenTable.
Pre-paid chef's counter seating, according to Saison's website, will be available for 7pm on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, while more traditional reservations will continue to be available throughout the week, from Tuesday through Saturday. The chef's counter link isn't currently active on Saison's website, but the URL is currently live on Square's marketplace, with tickets available for purchase.
Neither Skenes nor a spokesperson for the restaurant, as of publication time, responded to this reporter's inquiries about the details of this new service, but a receptionist at Saison, when contacted anonymously, said that the chef's counter will be in a separate space adjacent to the dining room, and that it will seat eight people. The offerings will be slightly different from the regular menu, she said.
The price of the chef's counter appears to be the same as Saison's regular menu, with the $888 breaking down to $398 for food and $298 for beverages. Curiously, the service charge is listed at $192, which represents nearly 28 percent of the total cost of the menu and wine pairing. Another explanation, however, would be that the service charge is only 18 percent and inclusive of tax (though that would put the cost at around $893). Eater will update with additional details as they become available.
Saison isn't the only Bay Area spot to espouse pre-paid policies. Last year, Daniel Patterson's two Michelin-starred Coi adopted the beta version of Tock, Nick Kokonas' increasingly popular online ticketing system, as an alternative to more traditional OpenTable reservations. Thomas Keller's The French Laundry will also join Tock when it returns from its current kitchen remodel.
Saison appears to be the first major restaurant to adopt the Square system, and with good reason: Jack Dorsey, the founder of Square, is an investor in Skenes' restaurant.
The chief beneficiary of ticketed reservations is the restaurant, as it virtually eliminates the problem of cancellations. Owners and operators lock up the entire value of a table at the time of booking, so the restaurant is guaranteed revenue, regardless of whether a guest shows up or not. In other words, pre-paid dining shifts the risk of eating out from the restaurant to consumer, who stands to lose the entire value of the reservation if unforeseen circumstances arise. To be fair, some restaurants on Tock allow guests to transfer their tickets form one night to another with advance notice, but it's not yet clear whether that feature will be available at the Saison chef's counter.
Saison historians will recall that the acclaimed restaurant was one of the earliest Bay Area adopters of pre-paid dining; it regularly sold all-inclusive tickets ($498) through SeatMe at its old location in the Mission. The restaurant dropped that option when it reopened in its much larger space, near AT&T Park, in 2013.