On April 6, 2011, at 2:41pm, an email arrived in my Spam folder with the subject line: "Opening Day at Next." The email instructed me to navigate to www.nextrestaurant.com, which did not load on my computer. IT whiz David Gibson pulled the site up on his PC. After being prompted to enter my email, the site promised to email me back with a password. I received the password about five anxious minutes later (in my regular�not spam�folder), and logged in to the site.
The site instructs you to enter your credit-card information before scoping around for tickets. I did as told, then headed to the Tickets page. (FYI: These screengrabs are not from the date/time I selected.) Here, by clicking on different dates, boxes populate at the bottom of the screen showing the price point for each reservation time that is still available. The lowest price I saw was $65, and the highest price was for the "kitchen table" (a 16+ course menu for six diners) at $165. Most desirable times were in the $80-90 range per person. Clicking on the price takes you to the next screen.
The next step is to select your beverages. Water service (which also, according to the restaurant's Facebook page, includes coffee) is free. Non-alcoholic pairings are $22, and there are two tiers of wine pairings: "Standard" is $48/person and "Reserve" is around twice that price. Beverage selection can be different for each diner; the site allows you to choose one person at a time.
A final page totals the price of the tasting menus and wine pairings and adds an 18% service charge and 11% tax (on the pre-service total). In this scenario above, dinner for two (at $98 each) with wine pairings (at $48 each) is $376.68.
It went off with a number of hitches, but nonetheless tickets to Next—Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas's period-inspired restaurant in Chicago's West Loop—finally went on sale today. Of course, in order to have had a chance to get one, you would have had to have been among the first to sign up for the email list (which is now closed) on the restaurant's website. And because of "email slowness," you would also have to be a little bit...lucky. Many people received notification that they could purchase tickets on the site but didn't receive the necessary password to do so, causing some serious moaning on Twitter. The site stopped accepting reservations for today (opening night) at 4pm, and over Facebook, Next announced it would not send emails to the next segment of the list until tomorrow morning. Despite these hiccups, I was fortunate enough to receive an email and book my tickets today. Check out the slide show above to see how the unusual reservation system—in which non-refundable tickets are issued at different prices depending on the day of the week and time preferred—works.
If a sexy-but-wonky reservation system isn't sating your Next appetite, check out the Eat Out section this week, in which we get aquainted with the chefs behind Achatz, and find out what is actually in the "clear cocktail" at the Aviary.