Dominique Crenn’s Atelier Crenn, arguably the world’s only restaurant where, in place of a standard menu, guests receive an original poem, with specific lines of the poem loosely corresponding to the experimental, naturalistic dishes, will become the latest U.S. establishment to start asking patrons to prepay for their meals.
Starting in mid-April, the two Michelin-starred Crenn will drop Resy and instead accept bookings through Tock by Nick Kokonas, the online reservation system that’s helped make it culturally acceptable for restaurants to have diners to pay for the bulk of their meals in advance. It’s a format that transfers the financial risk of a no show from the owners (or waiters) to the guest, which technically makes the bookings more akin to concert tickets than standard reservations.
That’s an enticing proposition as fine dining establishments, which already operate on thin margins, seek to stay profitable as rents and wage regulations push the cost of doing business ever upward in the Bay Area and beyond. (Christopher Kostow’s three Michelin-starred restaurant at Meadowood switched to Tock in the new year).
The challenge, of course, it to convince diners to part with their disposable income in advance of a meal; Daniel Patterson’s Coi experimented with Tock a while back before eventually switching back to OpenTable.
As Crenn finishes up renovations to the restaurant – and raises staff wages – the price of dinner, which was $298 late last year before jumping to $315, will go up again on April 17 to $325. Service is included (Crenn eliminated tipping at the beginning of 2016). Dinner for two, after tax, will cost $705, or $1,085 after optional wine pairings. That’s not out of line for one of the Bay Area’s best restaurants; in fact it’s easy to spend more at The French Laundry, Meadowood, or Saison.
Eater spoke via phone with Crenn yesterday about the switchover to Tock, the debut of a more extended tasting at Petit Crenn, and the launch of her wine counter, Bar Crenn, later this year. Here’s what we learned:
- The Renovations: When the restaurant’s overhaul is completed in early April, there will be new Goby Walnut tables from Portland, Knoll chairs, custom silverware from Japan, and a remodeled kitchen with a Molteni range. There will be just 22 seats spread across eight tables with two seatings per night. Crenn’s menu itself will also be “more complex.”
- On Pre-Payments: “I want people to fully immerse in the experience. I don’t want them to sign a bill at the end. You just come here, relax and have an amazing time.”
- The Cost of Wine: The pairings will remain at $175 for the standard option, or $295 for the reserve, but Crenn will now also offer $475 “rare cellar” pairing as well. Prices are inclusive of service.
- On Labor Costs and Staff Salaries: Crenn, who recently raised staff salaries, says her yearly labor costs have jumped from $500,000 in 2011 to over $1 million. Servers make $20-$40/hour under the no tipping system.
- On Petit Crenn: In addition to the $87, seafood-and-vegetable-focused, seven-course tasting, Crenn has introduced a $200 extended option as a bridge between the more affordable-ish set menu and the pricier fare of Atelier Crenn. Service is included and Resy will remain the booking app.
- On Bar Crenn: The chef says the restaurant, which will feature biodynamic wines and small plates is currently scheduled to open in May and that she’s planning on making prices service-included as well (even though some casual restaurants have had a harder time making these no tipping policies work due to the slightly higher prices involved).