Launched earlier this year by Chicago-based restaurateur Nick Kokonas, Tock is an app making headlines in the hospitality industry. For starters, Tock proposes a new way of making reservations that recalibrates the balance of power in favour of the restaurant. No bad thing in itself.
The app allows businesses to sell tickets, which guarantees up-front payment for meals, and has recently been adopted by Michelin-starred restaurant The Clove Club in Shoreditch, East London. Tock also offers businesses the option of charging deposits to guarantee table reservations; the principle here is akin to attending the theatre or a sporting fixture; you pay up front, not after. Easy enough to swallow, so far.
The system also helpfully counteracts the long-running problem of last-minute cancellations. Who can say – hand on heart, now – for good reasons or bad, that they’ve never cancelled and left a hard-working kitchen in the lurch? What about failing to inform a restaurant when a friend cancels? Such slight changes to our own plans can often have a detrimental effect on hard-working businesses that have to plan menus and pay for their produce whether it gets eaten or not.
At Monocle we’ve been thinking hard about what makes a truly great restaurant. With travel guides to London and New York launching in May and the publication of our inaugural restaurant awards to follow in June, our editors have floated nominations for some of their favourites from around the world. We believe that sincerity, good service and attention to detail, rather than square plates, foam, fuss or menus with too many adjectives, make restaurants that are worth their salt.
Another hidden metric that should not be overlooked, however, is a restaurant’s capacity to surprise. As we weed out the tested local haunts from the overhyped openings, it’s become clear that plenty of unassuming stop-ins have set themselves apart from the crowd by being hospitable and finding a spare table where none seemed available. Places that acknowledge that plans change and that recognise your voice over the phone rather than your name on a backlit screen.
Although apps like Tock rightly redress the balance of power in favour of restaurants (and are likely to encourage flaky diners to honour their reservations), it's important that restaurants retain a little humanity, humour and the capacity to cater for changing plans.
Josh Fehnert is Monocle’s Edits section editor.