I understand Next's and, it looks like, Alinea's position that a restaurant chair has a monetary value, especially at a restaurant that sells out nightly. An odd numbered party means a chair sits empty for one turn, costing the restaurant the profit it would earn if the chair were occupied. From a purely money oriented point of view it makes fiscal sense to only accept even numbered parties that match up to dining room seating. This is especially true for a restaurant that has far more prospective diners wanting reservations than tables available.
But the reservation policy is exclusionary. A solo diner passing through Chicago can not get a reservation. The same for a couple taking a widowed parent out to dinner. No hope, either, for an odd number of friends getting together for a special meal. Simply put, greed trumps hospitality.
There is also the coldness of the web site based reservation system. When I call a restaurant for a reservation, if my desired day or time is not available, we can discuss what is open. The next week or month? An hour earlier or later? Perhaps a waiting list? This is the level service a great restaurant should offer - especially a Michelon three star restaurant such as Alinea. Next's and Alinea's approach seems more like what could be expected from an Appleby's than restaurants of their caliber.
I also mildly object to advancing a restaurant its operating funds. Prepaying for meals is nothing more than a short term, interest free loan. Good if you can get it, I guess.
I hate the arrogance of their system, both the tickets and the requirement for even numbered parties - the we-can-get-away-with-it-so-we-will, take-it-or-leave-it attitude. Same as fine dining restaurants that do not accept reservations. A year or two later, the same restaurants are begging for guests to make reservations - a proper comeuppance, for sure.
This wasn't the case at Trio, where Grant was before Alinea. I dined there twice, both times solo as I was on my own - in Chicago on business. Welcomed for both dinners. I phoned for a solo reservation. I paid at the end of the meal. I could suggest that a Grant Achatz conceived menu is best experienced solo - no distractions of conversation and such - total plate by plate focus on the progressive flair, drama and whimsey of Grant's choreographed tour de force.
From a bean counter's point of view there may be everything right with Next's and Alinea's computer based reservation system. For a customer, nothing.
Edited by Holly Moore, 04 March 2012 - 10:31 AM.