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What Can You Break Today?

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Before starting Tock, Kokonas tested a similar system at his three establishments—Alinea, Aviary, and Next. After he opened Alinea to international fanfare in 2005, he was spending $140,000 a year on staff dedicated to managing the constantly ringing reservation line. He was also losing an average of $260,000 a year on cancellations and tables with partial no-shows. Convinced there had to be a better way, he developed an unsophisticated ticketing program in 2010. “I didn’t make all this up because it was exciting to me to build this software company,” he says. “It was driving me nuts.” In 2011 he decided his new restaurant, Next, would offer reservations exclusively via the online platform. Happy with the results, Kokonas eventually rolled over his other places to the system. Since it switched to tickets, Alinea’s net profits have gone up 38 percent, a stat Kokonas crowed about last June in a 6,000-word essay arguing that ticketing was the future of restaurants. The post went viral among avid diners and chefs who wanted to adopt the program. “I was getting 10 restaurants a day e-mailing me,” Kokonas says. Kokonas has a prediction. In five years, he says, the tipping landscape will be very different, with most restaurants including mandatory service fees in their bills. “Everyone is so afraid to be the first to change something,” he adds. But ticketing or service fees? “This is so easy, it’s unbelievable,” he says, eyes wide and hands in the air, as if he can’t fathom how the rest of the industry hasn’t already figured this out.