Should you have to pay for restaurant reservations?

By Ezra Klein

Bram Cohen makes the case for a new system:

The restaurant continues to charge the same amounts it does currently, with the same menu, but there’s a ‘seating fee’ for sitting down which might be charged if the restaurant sells out in advance. The amount of the seating fee is determined by when the restaurant becomes completely booked, with the fee going down the later the selling out happens, possibly going down to zero at the end.

By making a reservation when the potential seating fee is a certain amount, a customer is declaring that they’re willing to pay the seating fee for that time period if it is necessary, but they aren’t penalized for making an early reservation unless it would have been necessary to do an early reservation to get a seat. By waiting to make a reservation until later, a customer is declaring that they are unwilling to pay a higher price, but also allowing for the possibility that the restaurant will become fully booked and they won’t get a seat. One of the nice features of this system is that the reservation system is essentially unchanged, allowing for trivial support of reserving particular time slots and tables.

Just to be clear, as I understand Cohen’s idea, you’d only be charged if the restaurant was indeed full. If they didn’t fill up, the reservation would be free. The practical effect of this would be that good restaurants will get more expensive. If I were making changes to restaurant economics, I’d get rid of tipping and “free” bread.

(Via Marginal Revolution.)

2 responses to “Should you have to pay for restaurant reservations?

  1. I am less intersted in this concept (which I find confusing and annoying) than the concept for Next Restaurant where you buy a ticket to dinner. Pay in advance, sit down, eat, drink, leave. Now that I find very cool.

  2. Ezra, did you major in fixing things that aren’t broken?

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