We blogged many times about the Next restaurant’s innovative ticket scheme. Potential restaurant goers had to sign up to try to acquire seats at a fixed price for a set meal. Good for the restaurant in terms of knowing what inventory to hold, predictable revenue etc. The scheme turned out to be extremely successful with resale prices of the tickets running into thousands. Why not just auction off the seats – that is what very economist would say? It turns out that Nick Kekonas and Grant Achatz do not want to make too much money and want everyone to be able to afford to come. In response to my blog post Nick commented:

Since we have universally high demand right now, the question is why don’t we flatten the pricing towards the top of what the market will pay? There are a few reasons for this, mostly having to do with customer service and the hospitality industry. Simply, we never want to invert the value proposition so that customers are paying a premium that is disproportionate to the amount of food / quality of service they receive. Right now we have it as a great bargain for those who can buy tickets. Ideally, we keep it a great value and stay full.

I replied

If you want to give it to charity, to start a foundation to teach disadvantaged kids how to cook or whatever is close to your heart, that surely dominates just giving up the money to random lucky people who sign up and sell tickets for profit on Craigslist. And given you have software already, I bet it would be pretty easy to program a simple auction.

My advice was pretty obvious and I’m sure they though of it already. Anyway:

Next created a special page to run a Dutch auction for an El Bulli menu two-top every night, all proceeds to go to the University of Chicago Cancer Center where Grant Achatz was treated….

Not surprisingly, there are a lot of people who couldn’t stand to wait for Next El Bulli tickets to come down in price— as of this writing 46 of the 72 tables, many of them for the $5000 maximum price (compared to about $800 for a regular pair of Next El Bulli tickets; most of that will be tax deductible as a donation) have sold for a total of $215,000. Odds are the entire block will sell out later today, bringing in around $350,000 for the hospital in little over a day. Next’s food fascinates, but it’s hard not to think that Next’s radically innovative business models will prove equally important and influential for the restaurant industry and its extensive charitable involvement over the years to come.