Tock Aims to Oust OpenTable as Restaurants' Favorite Reservation Platform

January 8, 2019

By Chloe Aiello

What do Alinea, Eleven Madison Park, and The French Laundry have in common?

Aside from their Michelin stars, the restaurants all offer reservations through the booking platform Tock. Acclaimed restaurateur and Tock founder and CEO Nick Kokonas hopes his software platform can wrestle the reservations monopoly from the almost 20-year grip of OpenTable and launch bookings into the 21st century.

"We built a system that really ties into Google ($GOOGL) and Instagram and Facebook ($FB) and allows restaurants to market the modern digital way," Kokonas told Cheddar Tuesday.

Tock was born out of Kokonas' own frustrations as a restaurant owner. Together with famed chef Grant Achatz, Kokonas owns five of Chicago's top restaurants, including Alinea and The Aviary. He said he grew frustrated with the limitations of traditional restaurant bookings and systems, like OpenTable. Kokonas wanted a way to advertise his restaurants' special features, like chef's table seating and VIP experiences ー and he wanted a system to keep diners on the hook for the reservations they made.

"Especially on something like Valentine's Day, people book, and then 30 percent of the people just don't show up. And so that takes a huge toll and cost on all the people who are good diners and show-up or call ahead and cancel," Kokonas said.

Enter Tock. Tock enables diners to see and book any of a restaurant's available tables, including special and VIP experiences. While some reservations are free, most restaurants require deposits in advance that can be applied to the cost of the meal, which serves as (often expensive) encouragement to diners to actually make their reservation times. Knowing how many diners are coming and when can help restaurants cut down on food waste. Furthermore, the restaurants have the option of employing dynamic pricing ー or prices that shift depending on reservation time. A table for two at 7 p.m. on a Saturday, for example, might cost more to reserve than a table on Tuesday at 9:00 p.m.

"You could say that Saturday is 'surge pricing' or you could say Tuesday is a discount, but the reality is the real price is somewhere in the middle," Kokonas said.

"What Tock allows restaurants to do is sort of move pricing in two directions ... it is about is creating the opportunity for restaurants to meet supply and demand wherever it may be," he added.

As a benefit for diners, partnership with Chase allows customers to rack up rewards when using Tock. For restaurants, Tock charges a recurring, subscription software fee, rather than a cost that adjusts according to head-count.

"There are so many benefits that are not obvious to essentially streamlining this booking process, taking it off the telephone and moving it to where we all live, which is our mobile phones," Kokonas said.

Tock supports 70 to 80 percent of the Michelin three-starred restaurants in the U.S., and adds about four new restaurants per day. He also said the app sees about a hundred thousand new diner accounts per month. And the opportunities for growth don't end there. Since the platform is essentially a variable pricing appointment booking system, Kokonas said it could be applicable for everything from doctors' offices to tattoo parlors.

For full interview click here.