The Future of Dining Out is a Premium Experience

Restaurants are facing unprecedented challenges, but industry veteran Frazer Nagy has a solution

When you book a flight, you have options: do you want to book a first class ticket and a spacious seat? Or will you go for the cheapest ticket, hoping you won’t be assigned a crowded middle seat? This premium pricing model isn’t something you typically find in the restaurant industry, where a table at a ubiquitous chain on a Monday afternoon costs the same as a desirable table at the hottest spot in town on a busy Friday evening.

“The restaurant industry is one of the few not offering premium or dynamic pricing, which has been around since the time of gladiators” says Frazer Nagy, a multi-time restaurant founder and CEO of Ottawa-based tech company Transparent Kitchen. “It’s a broken economic model.” The restaurant industry operates with notoriously small margins— the 2019 Restaurants Canada Operations Report puts average margins for full service restaurants at 3.6%, and the pandemic added new challenges including labor shortages, inflation, and rising food costs that will be difficult to overcome even for busy restaurants. 

Nagy believes that restaurants need to start operating as part of the experience-based economy, and start charging a fee for table space and the dining experience. “If you want to enjoy a great meal at a great restaurant at a great table, there should be a price for that.”

Nagy and his Transparent Kitchen team launched the Tablz booking tool in late 2020 with a half dozen restaurants in Ottawa. The tool shows guests a 3D walkthrough of a restaurant, and allows them to book a specific table during peak times for a small fee (currently $4-$10 in the Ottawa market, though this fee will vary by city and by restaurant). Much like the airline model, Tablz makes premium seat selection voluntary, and not all of a restaurant’s table inventory comes with a price tag.

The response from customers so far has exceeded Nagy’s expectations. “Consumers are demanding this, diners are actively looking for tools to find preferred seat selection,” Nagy says. “This is an exchange, this benefits the consumer and the restaurant.” Tablz is expanding into San Francisco, Vancouver, Miami, and Scottsdale throughout 2021 and will include everything from small, five-table establishments to Michelin Star restaurants.

Like many innovations, this change was inevitable and accelerated by the pandemic. “The two biggest growth categories in the food space are ghost kitchens and experienced-based dining,” Nagy says. “Good restaurants are going to be harder to find and harder to get into, because supply has been decimated. Demand is at an all time high. People need to understand the true value of these dining experiences. I think we’re entering the golden age of dining, and I think we should all enjoy the next couple of years.”

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