A Ticket To Dine – Where The Light Gets In
You’re happy to pay for a theatre ticket or a football match in advance – so why not a meal out? Ticket-only dining launched in the US (where else) in 2011 when Chicago’s three-Michelin-starred Alinea pioneered the revolutionary idea that diners would be prepared pay in advance for a $200 meal. They absolutely were - and out of this came Tock, the online ticketing and prepayment system that has gradually made inroads on this side of the pond. The Clove Club in London’s Shoreditch was first, followed by The Fat Duck in Bray, Heston Blumenthal’s three-star venue. But it’s still very much early days with around 20 UK venues signed up so far.
The latest convert to the cause is Stockport’s Where The Light Gets In, which moved over to ticket-only dining this month. Stockport might not strike you as an obvious gourmet hotspot but this place is one of the UK’s hottest (excuse the pun) culinary tickets right now. There’s no choice, other than do you want the wine pairing (£45) or cheese (£10) on top of the £75 tasting menu. And what you are given to eat for your dozen-or-so courses depends on what’s fresh, foraged, slaughtered or at peak fermentation that day. It’s cutting edge stuff, with chef and owner Sam Buckley (ex-L’Enclume) and his young team working from the most open of open kitchens whilst diners look on from the most spartan of spartan dining rooms.
There’s plenty of reasons why ticket-only dining is happy days for restaurateurs. They get paid in advance, eliminating the margin-crushing curse of the no-show. It puts a stop to the pernicious practice of diners making multiple restaurant bookings then choosing where to go at the last minute. Staff can focus on more important things than juggling tables and answering phones. And it’s one of the most efficient ways possible of reducing the number of empty tables each week. But it’s only going to work well in an environment where there is limited supply and pretty much unlimited demand. WTLGI only does 100 covers a week and has premier league food critics like Marina O’Loughlin drooling (read her Guardian review). There’s a very different dynamic at work in your neighbourhood Indian or Italian.
But is it good for the diner? The knee-jerk answer is no – why put the money in the restaurant’s bank account when it could still be in yours. WTLGI General Manager Emma Underwood is adamant that Tock is great news for diners too, making the whole booking experience much more user friendly. You can see availability at a glance, rather than by trial and error. You can also put yourself on a waiting list and conversely not get stung for cancellation charges. And we would add that there’s that fuzzy and slightly self-delusional feeling that you’re headed out for a top-drawer dining experience and not going to be paying a penny for it.