Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas

Technical glitches on the menu in Next restaurant's reservations debut

Wed, 04-06-2011
By: Lorene Yue

Chef Grant Achatz's highly-anticipated Next restaurant experienced a near crash-landing on Wednesday when it finally began taking reservations.

The restaurant’s first day of accepting bookings online for the spot at 953 W. Fulton Market was not without glitches and grousing – as evidenced by numerous posts on Facebook and Twitter. Reservations at Next are sold as tickets, and the theme of the menu rotates every three months. Many fans clamoring for a taste of the debut menu – “Paris 1906: Escoffier at the Ritz” -- were hampered by the two-step process and e-mail servers unable to keep up with ticket requests. 

"I'm thinking it might just be easier to go to Paris," one frustrated would-be patron, Linda Dionesotes, wrote on Next's Facebook page.


Within five hours of accepting reservations, 22 out of 62 days had sold out. Next is open Wednesday through Sunday.


The restaurant stopped taking reservations at 7 p.m. to allow its servers to catch up to the backlog created by granting 4,000 people access to its site.


Nick Kokonas, co-owner of Next and another high-profile eatery featuring Mr. Achatz’s cuisine – Alinea -- said the Next team was employing "bigger, badder" servers for resuming sales on Thursday.


The restaurant, roughly a year in the making, embraced a bold system that asked diners to pay upfront for their meal – including tax and tip – and tried to control when people were allowed to reserve a table. The only problem was figuring out how to do that seamlessly with 19,000 people expressing interest in a place that has roughly two dozen tables.


At first, Next’s owners decided to grant access to its online reservation system to 500 people at a time based on when they joined the restaurant's e-mail list. A nice theory, except that the larger e-mail servers it had pressed into service for the day weren't ready by the 10 a.m. scheduled start. That delayed the process until 2 p.m., when Next's owners decided to increase the batch to 1,000 names.


The first few in the door appeared to have little trouble buying a reservation. Brian McCarthy of Chicago snagged two tables for two within minutes of the first group being allowed past the velvet rope.


"It was very smooth," he said. "I didn't have the trouble others did."


Problems rose once more people started logging into the site and when unauthorized individuals tried to get in.


Next is not a typical restaurant. Menus are set for a three-month period. A Thai theme will follow the Paris-themed debut in July, August and September. Each meal within a season is exactly the same, what changes is the price. Dinner at 9 p.m. on a Wednesday is the least expensive, with the pricing rising above $100 for a Saturday night seating. The most expensive seat goes for $165 in the kitchen at a table for six.


At least two enterprising individuals attempted to sell their Next reservations on Craigslist late Wednesday afternoon. One individual was asking $1,200, or a best offer, for a table for two at 8:30 on Friday. Those seats cost $376.68 or $505.68 based on the wine package chosen. Another individual asked for a $50 booking fee.


A number of fans were still stymied by the process late Wednesday, but those shut out of the first seasonal menu can get another chance when reservations go on sale in the summer.