Make time to listen to one of the best restaurant business podcasts I’ve heard to in a long time: Patrick O’Shaughnessy interviews Nick Kokonas, founder of 3 great Chicago restaurants Alinea, Next, and The Aviary. He’s also co-founder and CEO of Tock, an innovative restaurant booking system.
Alinea broke the mould with the way they pre-sold bookings to avoid no-shows and cancellations, and introduced variable pricing (just like planes and hotels). Kokonas then developed the booking software to manage the process and the level of customer communication they wanted… and went on to sell the system to hundreds of other operators.
By knowing how many people will be visiting and what they’ll be ordering, Alinea is able to radically reduce labour and food costs – and break apart the ‘typical’ restaurant costs and profit margins (a fantastic story about how they halved the cost of high-end beef). Even learning the secrets of the publishing business to produce their cookery and cocktail books was an adventure, and created another highly-profitable niche. COVID-19 came, and there had to be a significant reshaping of the business – with strong foundations and a robust booking system, that change could be done in a matter of days.
The Alinea group is way bigger than many of the cafes and restaurants I connect with in Australia, but the lessons they’ve learned are absolutely applicable – put aside an hour of your time for some great business inspiration.
Update: here’s a long interview (3 hours!) between Nick Kokonas and Tim Ferriss from 2018.