Prepaid Tickets for Spa Services?

Spas and restaurants have a lot in common; clients have an “appointment” for a particular time, enjoy their meal or services, interact with staff in a way that will hopefully increase the amount of the ticket (retail, wine & dessert) and generally enjoy themselves.  Their likelihood of returning is based on how well the entire experience went; from making the reservation, to enjoying the service or meal, to the rapport, or lack thereof, that was felt with the staff.  Because of these industry parallels, I subscribe to Restaurant Hospitality magazine, and I always get some interesting tips.

In a recent issue, I came across an article on Chicago chef and restaurateur Grant Achatz that I just had to share.  This young man has worked hard to rise to rarified heights in the restaurant industry; his Chicago restaurant, Alinea, was just listed at #7 on a list of the best restaurants in the WORLD (making it the highest-ranking restaurant in North America) along with receiving a 5th James Beard award (and along the way surviving a bout with cancer of the tongue).  But rather than resting on his accomplishments, Achatz has revealed plans for a new, second restaurant with a revolutionary operating model.

The restaurant will be called Next, and it will serve four different menus per year, which will be based on great moments in culinary history, or in the future.  The first menu will feature authentic interpretations from Paris in 1912.  But the really interesting part is that the menus will be prix-fixe, and will be priced according to the day and time they are served.  For example, the menu price may range from $40 to $75, with Saturdays at 8pm being on the high side, and a weeknight at 9:30pm on the low side.  Plus, patrons will purchase pre-paid tickets to eat there, much like purchasing a ticket to the theatre or to a sporting event, and the tickets will be fully inclusive of all charges, including gratuities.  Wine and beverage pairings will be charged supplemental prices starting at $25.  The tickets will be available through the restaurant website, and they are designing their own software to ensure a top-notch customer experience.

I’m sure there will be wrinkles in the plan, as with anything new, but I can’t wait to see how the concept plays out.  The owner gets the money up front, and will have a much better idea of exactly how many diners to plan for each night.  Having a specific menu, along with the pre-sold tickets, will dramatically decrease waste.  And he won’t have to pay people to take reservations anymore.  Says Achatz, “At Alinea, we now pay 3 or 4 reservationists all day long to basically tell people they can’t some to the restaurant.”  Of course, some patrons obviously do get to make reservations, but the combination of the demand of a popular restaurant with technology that already exists make this a really interesting concept.  He’ll still have customer service staff, but he’ll need less of them.

It made me ponder how the same kind of approach could work in a spa.  Prepaid tickets for spa visits, priced by the demand for the time requested?  Why not; clients already understand how this works for a Broadway show or seats to baseball game.  Who knows how the upsell component will work out; maybe a spa wouldn’t sell as much retail this way; on the other hand, maybe we’d sell more, since the client would only be paying for the add-ons at the time of visit, they might be more willing to spring for high-quality body lotion.  I know, I can hear you saying “It’s not personal enough!”  A spa experience does have many more touchpoints than a dinner out, and having a clientele that is mostly undressed certainly changes the experience.  But, I always love to hear about new concepts, and perhaps there is something to be learned from this.  I’ll keep you posted on what I hear as Next evolves.

I’d also love to hear comments below on whether you find this interesting and are curious to learn more, or if you think prepaid tickets for spas visits will NEVER work in any form.