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Saison switches to prepaid ticket system

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  1. Someone who came up with a dumber system than French Laundry. I hope people aren't stupid enough to ... um ... buy into it. However, I should cease to be amazed at the levels of stupid hell to which people will decend.

    7 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      I agree with your sentiments.....just amazing.

      1. re: rworange

        I think it's a smart approach for a wildly popular restaurant suffering from no-shows. Whether it's good for the customers, well, only those who think that it's reasonable to pay over $150 to eat 16 or more courses in a single meal will buy them.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          Agree about "wildly popular" restaurants or those with existing prix fixe model. However, I'm scratching my head as to why Piperade or Donato Enoteca (RWC) would be clients.

          Piperade's website currently reflects a la carte menu; however, when you try to make a reservation, shows a price of $50. Confusing & I didn't explore reservation further than first page. At least Next has FAQ tab with detailed explanation. Of course given new reservation system, Piperade is no longer on Opentable.

          And Donato?? I consider it a very good local, neighborhood place where folks could even drop in before/after the movies at the nearby cineplex.

          Wondering if restaurants will have combination prepaid system as well as normal reservation/a la carte dining. And "normal" reservation would mean via phone as I gather they would have to drop Opentable.

          1. re: ceekskat

            SeatMe doesn't sell tickets for Piperade or the vast majority of its other restaurants, it just makes reservations and provides a seat-map interface for the host a la Opentable. The "$50 a person" is just an informative estimate.

          2. re: Robert Lauriston

            Next's rational for going to a ticketing system was to get rid of a full-time reservationist and to prevent no-shows. They would then pass the savings on to the guests.

            Saison on the other hand is actually increasing their prices with this new format. They might be pricing themselves out of the market.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              i think it's the opposite. while i don't mind paying $150 or more for a fantastic meal, I don't want to pay for it using a ticket system.

              A while back we booked a table at Saison as a birthday present for a friend. The day before, that friend's mother was rushed to the emergency room and she spent the whole next day at the hospital. We called Saison and explained the situation, asking to move the reservation to another day. The person who answered the phone not only told us that we would lose our deposit (then it was $50/person), but that "we should have known better when we booked in the first place".

              They had a day's notice and could have found another group to take the table - but didn't want to bother. It took three more calls and a drive to the restaurant to resolve the situation.

              With a ticket system, it would be our task to try to resell the ticket -- which would never have happened.

              Sorry, no thanks.

              1. re: calumin

                This restaurant is clearly too important for me to ever eat there.

          3. Is there a press release from Saison as to why they are doing this change? Were they haven't so many fake reservations from folks trying to sell reservations or holding them for reservations services that they felt this would eliminate this or is this a way to increase cash flow?

            Also is this prepaid covering tax & tip too?

            For the folks who think it's bad idea, why do you think that? If I pay ahead of time or when they tender the bill, I am still paying, no? Is it that people are less likely to do last minute reservations or just the idea of paying before you get a service?

            2 Replies
            1. re: tjinsf

              "The first thing that anyone seems to notice is the price and I think it’s ridiculous. This is not a for-profit restaurant. We make sure we don’t lose money, but we certainly aren’t making any.”


              1. re: tjinsf

                The reason I think it's a bad idea is because it's not unusual for plans to fall in apart and I think restaurants should balance protecting themselves from no-shows with allowing customers to have some flexibility. Saison already had a 72 hour cancellation policy. I wouldn't even care if it had a 1 week cancellation policy, at least the customer still has some time to cancel, if necessary.

                But if I have to buy tickets, meaning I have to commit to spending the money before I've received anything, then I'd probably only buy them within a short period of when I wanted to use them. Probably the day before. Granted, since Saison doesn't seem to be that popular and it isn't hard to get a table (compared to places like Frances or TFL where one has to book a table weeks in advance), that wouldn't be a big deal.

              2. Wow, if you add in the beverage pairing, service, and tax, the total for Fridays and Saturdays will be $511, more than the current chef's counter, which is $498 all included. Weeknights will be $420, the chef's counter will be $601.

                1. I like Manresa's reservation policy. They ask for a deposit from your credit card and if you're a no show they issue a gift certificate for a future date. They reduce the no-shows and you're not out of the deposit.

                  14 Replies
                  1. re: ML8000

                    I like that idea too. Also at some place that do have a reservation policy I've had them waive it if they did fill the table.

                      1. re: PorkyBelly

                        Great for the customer, but it does nothing to compensate the restaurant for the revenues lost to empty tables.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          The restaurant keeps the deposit, or in this case keeps the deposit and issues a gift certificate.

                          1. re: ML8000

                            If the no-show diner uses the gift certificate, the restaurant has no additional revenues to offset the loss due to the no-show.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              this is a common issue - hotels, dentists, spas, and lots of other consumer-oriented services all have this issue. there are many different ways to handle this -- but only saison seems to think that the resolution to the problem is to make everything the customer's responsibility.

                              expedia used to have a no refunds policy -- it was a tradeoff in return for getting a good rate. even that has changed because customers hated it.

                              the ironic thing is that saison is a very high end restaurant. and they're trying to use a discount retailer approach to handle the problem. i give it six months before they realize that the loss in customer loyalty will more than offset any potential sales recovery.

                              the issue isn't lost revenue, the issue is that you have inexperienced (but probably well-intentioned) people trying to run a business who don't understand the consequences of their decisions.

                              there's a much better answer which is to 1) require a deposit, which provides incentive to the customer not to casually no-show, 2) train their service people to know how to be flexible so that gaining a deposit doesn't come at the expense of losing a customer forever, and 3) accept some revenue loss due to no-shows and reflect that in their overall business model.

                              1. re: calumin

                                According to their FAQ they charge the current price of the menu per person if you cancel within 72 hours of your reservation. I don't see why they need to go to a ticket system when they're going to charge you anyway if you no-show.

                                1. re: calumin

                                  Nobody expects to be able to get a refund for a play or concert, and what Saison is doing has more in common with that than with a normal restaurant.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    Robert - not true. If you buy a movie ticket at Cinemark, you can get a refund or exchange up until the day of the event. If you buy a ticket at SF Opera, you can get an exchange for another date up to 24 hours before the event.

                                    These places use ticketing as a convenience for the customer. Saison uses ticketing as a way of guaranteeing revenue. Big difference.

                                    Good luck trying to get someone to buy your $248 dinner ticket on a couple days' notice.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      If you consider the claim that their food costs are 50 percent, if you didn't eat the food you only cost them 50 percent. If you were a same day no-show then they would have to eat (pun intended) the food they bought but didn't serve, but if you cancel the day before, then they aren't out their food costs. And if they resell you table then they've made a huge profit.

                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                        That doesn't address the opportunity cost of not being able to pay the rent that is attributable to that specific table, and the other ongoing restaurant costs. They staff the restaurant to prepare the food--it's not like a chef gets to take 1/20th of the night off if 1 out of 20 tables cancels.

                                        1. re: SteveG

                                          Those are costs that are not significantly affected by cancellation or no-shows. It's not like they would've paid less rent if they hadn't booked that table in the first place.

                                          And, considering Saison's prior cancellation policy (72 hours notice required), I doubt they were getting a ton of cancellations and no-shows at the last minute. If a table or two cancels or doesn't show up, it seems unlikely that a staff member would suddenly become useless and have nothing to do. By the same token, I doubt they'd add on more staff if one more table is booked at the last minute.

                                          I'm not suggesting that no-shows don't result in lost revenue for restaurants. But a restaurant with a solid cancellation policy like Saison had is protected. Saison had 3 full days to adjust their staffing levels and food purchasing to account for cancellations. All other costs like rent and utilities are not dependent on how many tables they have on a particular night.

                                          1. re: SteveG

                                            Right. But if they claim at least 50 percent of their cost is the food -- -- then not having to buy food means they only lost half of what they would have charged. By charging them anyway, they're making 50 percent pure profit. If they resell the table, they're making 100 percent pure profit.

                                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                              If the pure food costs for the chef's counter dinner for two meal really add up to $640.50 ($1281 * 50%), then they're doing a terrible job purchasing food.

                                              i could be wrong, but my gut sense is that it's a soundbyte and not true.

                          2. Saison's ticketing system is in effect now. I had been planning on buying tickets for a special occasion in May but, I have to admit, when I saw the final price, I balked. I just don't think I'm up for paying almost $700 for a meal I'm going to have several weeks in the future. Obviously, I'm not Saison's target audience. (On the other hand, after I decided not to buy tickets, I checked out Open Table and saw that one can still reserve a table there. But I'm guessing the restaurant will call to get a credit card after they get the reservation as they did for me once before.)

                            I was also surprised to see that the final price for a ticket includes a "processing fee." So the price is $198 T-Th, $248 F-Sa for the food, then a 18% service charge, 11% in taxes (I guess they are adding on for the Healthy SF fees here) and, finally, a 5% processing fee. The final price, per person, without wine, is $268 on a weekday and $335 on a weekend.

                            52 Replies
                            1. re: JoLong

                              Wow, the weekend price is more than The French Laundry now. I think they might be the most expensive restaurant in the bay area right now, excluding the chef's table at Meadowood.

                              1. re: PorkyBelly

                                Saison's chef's table is more expensive than the one at Meadowood, where the $500 includes tax and tip.

                                The most expensive restaurant in the Bay Area is at Folsom and 17th. Go figure.

                              2. re: JoLong

                                Culturally I think they're going to run into problems asking for that kind of money upfront. People will pay in advance if there's a deal, a special event or a good reason like demand. However since it's none of those (maybe demand), I can't see it working. $700 bucks up front is steep and has major sticker shock. I'd balk too. I'd rather go somewhere else with conventional payment. Basically the difference is one you're being treated like a "customer/consumer" vs. being a "guest". Over $100 bucks per/person and I want to be treated as a guest.

                                1. re: ML8000

                                  There's definitely no demand right now, I could easily get a table for any day this week.

                                  1. re: PorkyBelly

                                    I think that for $700 I am more inclined to fly to LA and try Urasawa.

                                    The top I've paid was $1050 for two was in Kyoto, where we were waited on by Geisha in a perfect private Japanese room . We were served perfect beautiful food on museum grade centuries-old serving ware. And since there's no tax and they don't accept tips, that was the total.

                                    Considering the fact that I am continually underwhelmed by SF's finest-dining options,
                                    (Meadowood, Coi, even Benu was not quite up there) I'm not risking $700 on this one....

                                    This is really getting out of hand. I can't encourage this kind of behavior.

                                    1. re: pauliface

                                      "This is really getting out of hand. I can't encourage this kind of behavior."

                                      Amen, bruddah.

                                      1. re: pauliface

                                        >> I am continually underwhelmed by SF's finest-dining options

                                        +1 for that.

                                        I liked saison a lot when i went last summer -- but the bill was $150 excluding tax + tip. I don't see what has changed since then to justify the price increase? and fwiw, their website sucks.

                                        1. re: Dustin_E

                                          It really does! I don't understand why some restaurants think people want to hear music or see animations on a restaurant website. There are several very important and simple things that people want on a restaurant website (hours, menu, location) and everything else is irritating.

                                          1. re: nickis

                                            lol -- even worse: http://www.tankfarmstudios.com/

                                            which is the website of the company that did saison's site. love that intro.

                                          2. re: Dustin_E

                                            What changed since last summer is Saison got its second Michelin star, so now it's working on its third.

                                          3. re: pauliface

                                            imho, it seems like the highest-end of san francisco dining consists of stuffing as many courses as possible into a single meal, and making each of these courses as complicated as possible.

                                            it is probably entertaining to be a chef at one of these restaurants. and it is labor intensive, rather than expensive ingredient intensive, so probably more lucrative for everyone involved in the operation of the restaurant.

                                            but why this is the type of experience the market wants baffles me.

                                            1. re: Dustin_E

                                              Well, when this sort of thing is good, it's one of my favorite types of experience. Unfortunately, no restaurant in SF has yet come close to matching Alinea, Jardin des Remparts, Saam's, Momofuku Ko, Ryugin, or Moto,

                                              But in SF, I'd rather go to La Folie. They are consistent and to me, way better than the tweezer palaces that seem to get the hype...

                                              1. re: pauliface

                                                >> tweezer palaces

                                                love it.

                                                7chome kyoboshi, arpege, robuchon in vegas, tsukiji yamamoto would be my list of long menus to match. manresa or saison probably comes closest for me, though either is far from perfect.

                                                gary danko, tadich, harris', mina's lobster pot pie, and high end chinese seafood dinners are my bay area favorites, but are more of a 1-3 dish occasion per visit. occasionally repeat visits to sawa, jai yun or kappa i enjoy.

                                                what do you order at la folie? even some of the dishes there felt needlessly complicated, at least to me. (but i also wasn't a huge ryugin fan -- maybe i'm stodgy)

                                                1. re: Dustin_E

                                                  Mind you. Tweezer palace from me is *not* an insult, if the food is fantastic. Otherwise it does imply a hollow showiness...

                                                  I must try Gary Danko. Tadich is my new recent-discovery-of-an-ancient place favorite. I'd love to hear your high end chinese seafood favorite places, I don't have one. Don't know sawa or jai yun. I was hugely disappointed in Kappa. But I love Kiss, and Wakuriya is worth the trip south. Ino and Yume for pure simple sushi.

                                                  As for La Folie, here's a prior post of mine from last june:

                                                  I recently had a similar duck egg at Plum and it absolutely paled in comparison to what I had at La Folie. Rather than make me want to return to Plum, it just caused me to make a mental note that I really must return to La Folie.

                                                  Some of the dishes at La Folie are complicated, but I *like* complicated when the food is good enough to support it.

                                                  1. re: pauliface

                                                    for chinese seafood i've been going to yum's, mayflower, koi palace, r&g, south seafood and ordering live lobster, steamed live fish, dried abalone dishes, etc. i'm pretty sure yum's is the best, but i hate the drive, and have had good experiences at all of them. and the total bill is still a lot less than one would pay at one of sf's highest end restaurants, despite literally gorging on nothing but high end seafood, simply and freshly prepared.

                                                    i can completely understand why people don't like kappa -- but i like it, though i like the staff and the space and it is near my apartment and i like dishes as simple as they serve, and don't mind so much that some of them were prepared a day before. but i also like ino and kiss.

                                                    sawa and jai yun are both definitely worth a try in my book. both very unique places. though you might have a love / hate reaction to either.

                                                    i really like gary danko, provided i go with the right expectations -- i sit at the bar (meaning i don't have to make reservations a month in advance) and i order a couple seafood courses, and it ends up being ~ the price of a steak.

                                                    the la folie dishes you ordered look like good picks -- i want to try them sometime.

                                                    1. re: pauliface

                                                      @ pauliface

                                                      have you tried fleur de lys, masa's, or campton place?

                                                      was wondering what you thought of them if you had -- i've never been, but they were on my list to try.

                                                      1. re: Dustin_E

                                                        I have been to R&G and thought it was great. Of the others located in SF what's your first pick? It's time to try one! Remember, I love crab and lobster!
                                                        I was to Fleur de Lys a looong time ago, 1992, and it was a favorite up to that point. My best friend went more recently and was a little disappointed compared against La Folie. I have not been to Masa's or Campton Place. Next on my list is Atelier Crenn, though...

                                                        I totally agree about 5%. 5% of $700 is $35 for a processing fee? For that they should carve your bill in ebony.

                                                        1. re: pauliface

                                                          i'd suggest mayflower on geary, but with the caveat that i've only been there once, and didn't order from the tanks (but will next time.) HOWEVER, the seafood in the tanks looked to be in very good shape (unlike koi palace), and i was pretty impressed by all the other the dishes we did order -- especially the soup of winter melon, dried scallop and crab.

                                                          south seafood should also be a good choice, if you stick to the live crab and live lobster. their non-live seafood dishes i've had less luck with.

                                              2. re: pauliface

                                                It may seem silly, but I was very irritated by the 5% processing fee. It's not much compared to the price of the food but, on top of everything else, Saison wants people to pay for the privilege of using their ticketing system? A system they put in place entirely for their own benefit, and which provides no benefit to the customer?

                                                1. re: JoLong

                                                  >> It may seem silly, but I was very irritated by the 5% processing fee.

                                                  i don't think that is silly. it is very, very tacky.

                                                  it is just like masa in new york offering a $100 kobe beef supplement right after you sit down to your already $600 meal. it just makes you feel like you're being scammed.

                                                  the healthy sf fee pisses me off every time i see it. i know i'm going to hell for this, but i usually just subtract it from the tip.

                                                  1. re: Dustin_E

                                                    >i know i'm going to hell for this, but i usually just subtract it from the tip.

                                                    i know a lot of people here though the "incanto theory" was flimflam, but it made sense to me. second to last paragraph here, although i thought there was some other place this logic was spelled out better ...

                                                    1. re: psb

                                                      I hadn't thought about it, but that's actually a good idea. Especially since unlike virtually everywhere else in the US, servers don't have a base pay of less than minimum wage to be offset with tips.

                                                    2. re: Dustin_E

                                                      Shorting the waitstaff really doesn't do anything except short the waitstaff. As mentioned in the Incanto website, the healthy SF fee pays for all staff, line chefs, dishwashers, etc. I don't like seeing another tack on but for health coverage I don't mind since there's no free lunch with healthcare and yes, things are f**ked up that way in this country. You're probably not going to hell but I'd watch for karma, it might strike and shaft you later on.

                                                      1. re: ML8000

                                                        As the Incanto article points out, the problem is the unfair distribution of payments to tipped staff vis a vis kitchen staff. I don't think I'm shorting the server by deducting the 5 percent when they're already making so much more than the kitchen staff.

                                                        BTW, I was wrong, there are several states that do not allow tips to be credited against minimum wage, including California.

                                                        1. re: ML8000

                                                          >> Shorting the waitstaff really doesn't do anything except short the waitstaff

                                                          well, that and preclude me from paying the stupid healthy SF fee.

                                                          1. re: Dustin_E

                                                            If the fee surcharge was on the bill, you paid it. Reducing your tip by the same amount doesn't change that.

                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                              >> If the fee surcharge was on the bill, you paid it. Reducing your tip by the same
                                                              >> amount doesn't change that.


                                                              1. re: Dustin_E

                                                                It's not semantics. Reducing your tip means the server gets less money. The owner still gets the surcharge.

                                                                If you don't want to pay the surcharge, negotiate with the owner or manager before you sit down.

                                                                  1. re: Dustin_E

                                                                    Presented with a choice between your business and comping the surcharge, some restaurants would probably go for the business. In any case, you'd be sending the owner the clear message that you hate the surcharge.

                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                      yes, that's true. but effort, attention, inconvenience of doing this have a significance worth probably more (to me at least) than the healthy sf fee in the first place.

                                                                      but i agree that would be a more noble thing to do than to move to the "cheap end" of the tipping range because you don't like an extra tacky charge.

                                                                  2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                    >> Reducing your tip means the server gets less money. The owner still gets the surcharge.

                                                                    yes, but there are other feedbacks too. if employees are tipped less, they are less happy, so turnover is higher, productivity is lower, they demand higher wages, maybe downsell clients on menu items more often. which costs the owner.

                                                                    1. re: Dustin_E

                                                                      The surcharges are small enough that taking them out of your tip will probably just move you toward the lower end of the SF tipping range of 15-20%. If your usual tip is 15%, then the servers will just think you're cheap.

                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                        Do servers really analyze tip ratios systematically enough to figure out what is really going on? I seriously doubt that. I usually dont "itemize" the tip but round the whole bill to a dollar figure. Now sometimes $27.23 might become $27, and usually $34.68 will turn into $35, unless I am annoyed about something in which case it might become $34.50 or $34.00 ... I'm probably using (total + tax) * 1.18 as my starting point ... although sometimes I'll do (total + tax) * 1.15 + $1 if it is a lowish bill.

                                                                        Just like there are plenty of people looking for a reason to ding their server, I think there may be servers looking to claim someone is cheap rather than operating with a different norm, e.g. tip on pre-tax/post-tax. I doubt a server can tell the difference between "i took the heath surcharge out of your tip" and "i tipped on pre-tax".

                                                                      2. re: Dustin_E

                                                                        @Dustin -- that seems very indirect If what you are after is for worker dissatisfaction to engender revolution, I would suggest that you tell the server. That way they'll know that their tip is less because of protest, not bad service on their part.

                                                                        1. re: pauliface

                                                                          "I love the meal and the service was fantastic but I'm docking your tip 5% because I don't like the extra fee. Have a nice day and thank you for the service."

                                                                          Yeah that sounds like a sure way to have your food messed with.

                                                                          1. re: pauliface

                                                                            i'm not trying to start a revolution, i'm trying to make things seem more reasonable and fair in my worldview. i think the incanto explanation makes a lot of sense -- though it isn't hard to see why waitstaff wouldn't like that explanation.

                                                                            and i mean, it is all very indirect. if i pay the sf fee, i'm contributing to the perpetuation of what i think is a culture of profit through indirect stupid tacky fees. if i don't pay, i'm penalizing some people who don't deserve it. but that's the nature of tipping -- maybe it isn't my server's fault the entree took two hours to be delivered -- maybe the owner didn't staff the kitchen enough -- i still had a crappy experience, so should signal that with a not-so-generous tip.

                                                                            talking to the owner or waitstaff about it to me amounts to just boycotting those establishments in favor of other places -- because i'd rather do this than argue this point with every restaurant i visit. maybe i should do that, but that deprives them business they'd probably rather have than not (if even from a cheap tipper) and me of places i'd visit otherwise.

                                                                            adjusted for i'd pay the healthy sf fee if i were a regular (just to be pragmatic) or the service was noticeably good, and i'd leave a crappy tip anyway if the service were bad, it still seems like a reasonable approach, at least to me.

                                                                            1. re: pauliface

                                                                              Mr. Face:

                                                                              There are many things we *could* do which in a sense would advance "fairness" or leave us better informed or better off from a utility perspective, but they would so radically alter the dining experience from the "social contract" of "a respectful customer with typical needs/expectations should leave about an 18% tip for respectful, competent service." that they are more or less unreachable outcomes.

                                                                              This includes leaving a defense of your tipping percentage, negotiating for a cash discount, bargaining over your willingness-to-pay for different wines [I'm going to get the $20bottle marked up to $50, unless your will give me the $40 bottle marked up to $100 for $90 which will leave us both better off] ... or from the other side, the waiter "explaining" rough edges of his service ["the late food was the kitchen fault" "not my fault i was slow ... i'm covering 4 extra tables for a absent employee"], engaging in side-payments to get around tip-pooling issues etc.

                                                                              1. re: psb

                                                                                To be clear. I'm not endorsing the behavior at all. The only way I'll reduce a tip is if a server is hugely rude. Even incompentence won't do it, as lack of ability can't necessarily be helped.

                                                                                I was just saying that *if* he was going to do this, it would be a good idea to let the server know it was not their fault.

                                                                                1. re: pauliface

                                                                                  @Dustin, the particular restaurant in this case, Incanto, seems to have very low front of house staff turnover in the years I have gone there. The truth is, on a higher end meal, waiters will still make great money with a 15% tip. And they may have a much less stressful job as a result of everybody there working together without as much pay disparity friction. I know if I were a chef making half what a waiter made, I'd be less cooperative and friendly with the waiters. And they surely retain more bussers and dishwashers than the average place, who become useful pinch-hitting employees who know how to do everything if somebody is sick.

                                                      2. re: JoLong

                                                        The Price Hikes discusses Saison today, pretty much the same info as here - http://thepricehike.com/post/20905883...

                                                        1. re: nickis

                                                          Here's an interview with Skenes and The Price Hike


                                                          Looks like he hasn't been reading this thread.

                                                          "How have guests been responding to a ticket-only system? This policy of course has enjoyed success at Next in Chicago and Brooklyn Fare in NYC?"
                                                          "Very well. Its a pleasure to see our guests have a seamless experience."

                                                          1. re: PorkyBelly

                                                            Don't forget it's also a "relative bargain" according to Skenes.

                                                            1. re: PorkyBelly

                                                              If he wants to compare himself to France and Japan, he should read this review of his retaurant by a well known international blogger:


                                                              In summary, "Great dude, you're serving some good ingredients. Unfortunately, you're not that great of a chef."

                                                              I think that's the problem with a restaurant raising prices so fast -- if you're a high one-star / low two-star chef with $75 worth of ingredients, you'll be the same level of chef with $300 worth of ingredients.

                                                              1. re: Dustin_E

                                                                Saison got its second Michelin star a few months after that review, so the inspectors say he's running the third- to eighth-best restaurant in the Bay Area. Of course, they also say that only eight restaurants in the area (and none that cost under $100) are worth a detour or special trip.

                                                            2. re: PorkyBelly

                                                              I'm sure Thomas Keller will be amused to hear that his ingredients are second best.

                                                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                Haha, I know. I bet there are a lot of chefs who would raise their eyebrows at that comment.

                                                                1. re: nickis

                                                                  well, it's also true, at least if you're looking at the highest end seafood ingredients rather than the local produce.

                                                                  don't know if saison's is really any better than french laundry, but if you compare french laundry to the best in japan or france, it is certainly second tier.

                                                                  1. re: Dustin_E

                                                                    So does that make Saison third tier in your book?

                                                                    1. re: ML8000

                                                                      in my book, i'd rank them all roughly like this:

                                                                      for ingredient quality:

                                                                      1st tier - top 3 star places in france or japan
                                                                      2nd tier - TFL, manresa, saison, robuchon at MGM, urasawa, sawa
                                                                      3rd tier
                                                                      4th tier

                                                                      for chef's skill:

                                                                      1st tier - top 3 star places, robuchon at MGM
                                                                      2nd tier - TFL, manresa, urasawa
                                                                      3rd tier - saison
                                                                      4th tier - sawa

                                                                      for value:

                                                                      1st tier - manresa, sawa
                                                                      2nd tier - TFL, saison, top 3 star places in japan or france
                                                                      3rd tier - robuchon at MGM, urasawa
                                                                      4th tier

                                                                      1. re: ML8000

                                                                        even if saison is serving 1st tier ingredients, it is at best going to be like masa in new york -- great ingredients, terrible value, very good but not the best chef.

                                                                        ingredient transportation difficulties and lack of competition at that price point will all but ensure this.

                                                              2. re: nickis

                                                                Saison's no longer part of the everyday SF market of tasty food for hungry people.

                                                                It's in the international market for two- and three-Michelin-star experiences. There are only three such places in SF proper, and the kind of people who fly into town to eat at them are probably going to all three. A few hundred bucks isn't much more than a rounding error when you add up a first-class flight from Hong Kong or Dubai and a top-of-the-line hotel suite.

                                                            3. I hope their purveyers/ food sources do the same to them.

                                                              1. it looks like seats at the chef's counter are going for $400 all in, whether it is a weekday or weekend. did the price change?

                                                                7 Replies
                                                                1. re: Dustin_E

                                                                  It no longer includes wine. Very unclear on the site, but I saw that this morning and called to clarify, because it it was going to be $400 all in I was going to buy me some tix. Sadly, though...

                                                                  Note that the first paragraph refers to wine, but later paragraphs state that the price is inclusive of food, tax, and service. And that wine pairings are not included in the price.

                                                                  It's clear to me that they've balked and now there message is not pure. Initially, they tried to spin it that they wanted to provide 'a seamless experience' without the mention of dirty dirty money once you arrived. But the price was high, and the service charge especially egregious. So to try and make it look better (and remove the 5% on top of the wine) they've removed the wine from the prepay price, bringing it to $400. But of course, now that means that if you are going to have any beverages, the experience will not be 'seamless'. So only sober water drinkers will be without seam.

                                                                  1. re: pauliface

                                                                    i just wish they'd be more transparent about what menu items, etc you get before you pay.

                                                                    it seems like most other restaurants in the world at that price point established a strong reputation and loyal following for many, many years at many different lower price points, so people basically knew what they were getting when they signed up.

                                                                    saison seems to have just offered a double-priced menu (on top of their already very highly priced menu) overnight without saying what you get. that's what makes it feel like kind of a scam to me.

                                                                    1. re: Dustin_E

                                                                      They were also very non-transparent on their menu prices before they switched over to tickets, as mentioned here


                                                                      1. re: Dustin_E

                                                                        I hear ya.
                                                                        Feels like a 'dot crumb' bubble.

                                                                      2. re: pauliface

                                                                        Maybe they should have a second ticket for the wine pairings. I can see them getting pushback from people who were being forced to pay for wine they didn't want for any number of reasons (they don't drink at all for health or religious reasons; they're the designated driver; they want to bring a special bottle of their own; they simply don't want as much wine as a complete pairing). I'm not a big drinker so I'll often ask to split a pairing with my dining companion.

                                                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                          No one was ever forced to pay for the wine pairing though. It wasn't stated on SeatMe but you could reserve the chef's table without paying for wine pairings. And I'd guess anyone who would want to reserve the chef's table wouldn't have a problem calling the restaurant to find out if you could purchase it without a wine pairing.

                                                                        2. re: pauliface

                                                                          Looks like the price for the chef's counter is back up to $498pp inclusive of food, wine, tax and service and removing all seams.

                                                                      3. Interesting little mention here about Saison's pricing from SFGate's Inside Scoop, $1,281 dinner for two, or $640.50 for one:


                                                                        "Bloomberg critic Ryan Sutton dives into the Saison price hikes, which also include a ticket processing fee that, for the chef’s counter menu for two, costs $36 for a reservation. He also speaks to Joshua Skenes, who rationalizes the $1,281 dinner for two pricetag: “Currently we are serving the best ingredients in America. I welcome the debate and I welcome people to see inside the kitchen. Saison is an open book. It is a relative bargain based on the solely the ingredients alone, much less labor and rent.”"

                                                                        That links to this: http://thepricehike.com/post/20908716...

                                                                        3 Replies
                                                                        1. re: ML8000

                                                                          That processing fee mostly goes to credit card charges. SeatMe is grossing $10-11.

                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                            Credit card fees are the cost of doing business, now they're trying to pass on that fee to the customer as well as a fee for the privilege of using SeatMe.

                                                                            1. re: PorkyBelly

                                                                              Word. Continuing this trend, along with the SF healthy fee, expect to soon see line items on restaurant bills for rent and utilities.

                                                                              It's not like there is a reasonable alternative to paying by credit card while using the required SeatMe system. Saison is not giving us a privilege/favor by letting us pay by credit card.

                                                                          1. Yet another post on The Price Hike: Saison Retreats From 29% Price Hike, Drops Counter Menu Price Back to $498 - http://thepricehike.com/post/21025594...

                                                                            4 Replies
                                                                            1. re: nickis

                                                                              He keeps on harping about how "the price of the menu is dictated by the price of the ingredients" and how they're not profitable. Are ingredients magically more expensive on the weekends to justify charging $50 more on Fridays and Saturdays?

                                                                              1. re: nickis

                                                                                Another post on The Price Hike about how the counter menu is cheaper than the shorter weekend menu when paired with wine.


                                                                                1. re: nickis

                                                                                  Maybe the are trying to increase volatility of SAISON prices to create a FUTURES MARKET for SAISON tables ... Lock in that $498 table on your birthday, just in case it might go up to $525, blowing your $500 birthday budget.

                                                                                2. I just checked out SeatMe and they're no longer listing a "Service fee" in the price of the dinner, it now says:

                                                                                  "Each purchased seat includes food, tax, and gratuity. Wine not included."

                                                                                  However, the total price is STILL the same as when they were charging a service fee.

                                                                                  Something shady is going on. Do they think they can just remove the "service fee" and bury the cost into either the tax or the gratuity and nobody would notice?

                                                                                  19 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: PorkyBelly

                                                                                    I just did the math for a weekend ticket which is a base price of $248, but when you go to purchase the total with tax and gratuity is $335.

                                                                                    Assuming 11% tax ($27.28) that would mean they're charging 24% ($59.72) in gratuity to arrive at the $335 total.

                                                                                    I guess by "removing" the service fee what they really mean is they sneakily stuck it on to the gratuity.

                                                                                    1. re: PorkyBelly

                                                                                      Yep, someone left a comment to that effect on Eater (was it you?). Also, in the Eater post, someone from SeatMe had this to say about the processing fee:

                                                                                      "[The Price Hike] post helped alert us to the fact that Saison needed to change the wording on the ticketing page...Saison has been paying for the fees all along; however, the way it was itemized on the ticketing page made it seem that the diner was paying for it. The sole purpose of the processing fee is to cover credit card fees. It is the same fee that Saison would pay through their credit card provider."


                                                                                      That doesn't make any sense to me because the customer is still paying an extra fee (5-7% depending on whether it's charged on the food or food/tax/service). It's like they think not mentioning the extra fee is the same as not charging it.

                                                                                      1. re: JoLong

                                                                                        No, that wasn't me.

                                                                                        I'm not sure what's worse, having a service fee in the first place or lying about removing it.

                                                                                        1. re: JoLong

                                                                                          If they're going to tack on for the credit card fees, they should have an option to pay cash via PayPal.

                                                                                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                            PayPal charges merchants the same fee for Credit or Bank Account / Cash transactions. It's a total rip-off for non-Credit transactions.

                                                                                        2. re: PorkyBelly

                                                                                          >that would mean they're charging 24% ($59.72) in gratuity
                                                                                          Mr. Belly:

                                                                                          Surely you agree "the finest ingredients" require the "finest servers".

                                                                                          BTW, I think there is an element of "are you stupid or do you think i am stupid" to the claim "the restaurant isnt making money". See "hollywood accounting" e.g.


                                                                                          Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, under "Hollywood accounting," ended up with a $167 million "loss," despite taking in $938 million in revenue.

                                                                                        3. re: PorkyBelly

                                                                                          Ticket prices for tonight were $268 a few minutes ago (show as sold out now). Knock off the sales tax and it's $247. If the "gratuity" (actually a service charge, by definition a gratuity is voluntary) is 18%, the base price is $209. Next weekend the price is $335 so the base before tax and service charge would be $262. So that's up about 5.5% from the $198 / $248 they told the Chron in February.

                                                                                          It's hard for me to believe that many people willing to spend that kind of money are going to care that the total bill with wine will be $1049 instead of $1023.

                                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                            I'm not sure if you're agreeing with me. Your example is for a weekday ticket, the total for one ticket on the weekend is still $335.

                                                                                            The point is, they're still sneaking a "service fee" into the total price without disclosing that information to the customer. The math just doesn't add up.

                                                                                            1. re: PorkyBelly

                                                                                              The price including service charge and tip is stated on seatme.com. They're charging about 5.5% more than they were right before the ticket system. There's nothing sneaky about that. They can raise or lower prices any time they want for any reason.

                                                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                The base price BEFORE gratuity and tip is stated on seatme.com as $198 weekdays / $248 weekends.

                                                                                                How is it not sneaky if they're charging $268 and $335, respectively, with gratuity and tip and the math doesn't add up?

                                                                                                You're assuming they increased their base price by 5.5% but it's still $198/$248 as stated on seatme.com

                                                                                                1. re: PorkyBelly

                                                                                                  The information in the sidebar is out of date.

                                                                                                    1. re: PorkyBelly

                                                                                                      Since they started charging $268 / $335.

                                                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                        They've been charging $268 / $335 ALL along.

                                                                                                        The only difference is before a couple of days ago the total price included food, service fee, and gratuity. And if you assume 11% tax, 18% gratuity and 5% service fee the math adds up. But now they "removed" the service fee but the base price and total price remained the same. To get to the same total with just tax and gratuity they would have to charge 11% tax and 24% gratuity.

                                                                                                        It's hard for me to believe how somebody can't find that underhanded and dishonest.

                                                                                                        1. re: PorkyBelly

                                                                                                          It makes no sense to me to try to break down the ticket prices into components. You give the restaurant $268 or $335 and they serve you dinner. What they do with the money is their business.

                                                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                            If a business charging a hidden 5% fee to the customer isn't dishonest than I don't know what is.

                                                                                                    2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                      Those prices are not out of date. Both Skenes and a rep from SeatMe acknowledged that there was an extra processing fee charged on top of the base menu prices.

                                                                                                      Not to mention that they both talked to The Price Hike, which lists a very clear breakdown of the base menu prices ($198/$248) and the amounts charged for tax, service and the processing fee. In fact, after viewing that information, both Skenes and the SeatMe rep told The Price Hike and Eater, respectively, that they updated information on the Saison SeatMe page to be correct.

                                                                                                      If this were just as simple as updating the base price of the menu on the SeatMe website, they would have done that already.

                                                                                                      The fact is that Saison doesn't want to increase its base menu price again but it wants to charge 5% more. So it's has buried the extra amount in service or taxes. Robert, you're absolutely right that the small amount of additional money charged won't make a big difference to Saison's customers. But it's still a somewhat dishonest practice that is worthy of discussion.

                                                                                                      1. re: JoLong

                                                                                                        To me, all this was a bigger deal when they had that $150 price hike from $498 to $651 which just seemed absurd, arbitrary, and unjustified. While $498 is still very high, it's at least believable, we're back approximately where we started, and I don't particularly care about the details.

                                                                                                        Now that it's just merely incredibly expensive, I'm back to my debate about whether to actually try them or not over Atelier Crenn. :-)

                                                                                                        1. re: pauliface

                                                                                                          I agree that it's ridiculous that people say things like they'll happily pay $1200+ for dinner for two, but won't pay $30 for a reservation fee.

                                                                                                          In the end you're paying a bunch of money. Saison has made a lot of mistakes in presenting it's pricing, not the least of which is itemizing anything. They should have just shown one big price and told you everything was included. That way people aren't forced into wondering if they're being ripped off - which always happens if they think they're being nickel-and-dimed.

                                                                                          2. After all the discussion about pricing, service charges, and the like, can someone please tell me, Is Saison worth $1,200 for two?

                                                                                            Mrs. Rapini and I have spent:
                                                                                            >over $500 for dinner at Manresa, and were very disappointed
                                                                                            >+$350 at Commis and couldn't wait to go back
                                                                                            >nearly $400 per person at Masa's and had a mediocre meal with iffy service
                                                                                            ...and so on.

                                                                                            so, is there value in that $600 per person Saison "ticket"?

                                                                                            5 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: Rapini

                                                                                                what's the "... and so on"? more meals you liked, or more you were disappointed in? given what you said, i'd guess there's a 1 in 3 chance you like it. :-)

                                                                                                but i agree, i'd also like a report from someone who has tried the $500-$600 per person menu.

                                                                                                1. re: Dustin_E

                                                                                                  Those are our most recent experiences.

                                                                                                  Cyrus, Gary Danko, Fifth Floor and Terra were varying degrees of very good-to-excellent. Auberge du Soleil was dreadful--food and service. But those visits aren't as recent, so I didn't mention them specifically, since the quality of the meals and service can either improve or decline over time.

                                                                                                  The purpose of my post was only to see if someone whose gone to Saison recently has an opinion as to the value of such an expensive meal.

                                                                                                  1. re: Rapini

                                                                                                    My experience is that i'm really impressed by about 1 in 4 restaurants i visit, regardless of the price point. But if it is at a lower price point, i can afford to return to the places i find that I like with some regularity. If it is at a high price, i'm just paying to sate my curiosity. There is still only a 25% chance i'm going to be really impressed, even if i'm paying $500 for the meal.

                                                                                                    and fwiw, when i visited saison last summer, i was impressed and thought i'd return, but then they increased the price a lot...

                                                                                                  2. re: Dustin_E

                                                                                                    This guy said he liked the $500 meal he had last month so much he would gladly have paid more:


                                                                                                2. Just checked SeatMe again and looks like you can make a reservation without paying upfront now.

                                                                                                  With the $150 price hike and 5% service charge debacles, this ticket system is clearly not ready for prime time.

                                                                                                  Update: Saison isn't even listed on SeatMe now.

                                                                                                  13 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: PorkyBelly

                                                                                                    "Update: Saison isn't even listed on SeatMe now."

                                                                                                    Perhaps because of the flooding of last Thursday?

                                                                                                    1. re: Atomica

                                                                                                      There was an interesting bit in the Eater piece about the flood: " chef-owner Josh Skenes says he lost thousands in product overnight, and some of his equipment—including parts of his refrigeration system and a live tank where he stores langoustines and other shellfish—has been damaged."

                                                                                                      I've never seen or heard of live langoustines (real scampi) around here. Skenes goes on about his food costs, maybe he's not exaggerating.

                                                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                        Yeah, the tank is right behind the chef's counter seats. Pretty neat. The waiter said the langoustines were flown in from France that morning.

                                                                                                      2. re: Atomica

                                                                                                        They were closed, Eater reports they reopened Tuesday. This interview is the first thing I've read that makes me want to try the place:


                                                                                                        "I've gone out to many excellent places where you feel like shit after the meal. I don't want guests to feel that way."

                                                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                            Maybe I'm just feeling silly, but that interview read like satire to me. I thought the whole thing was hilarious, akin to a Christopher Guest film. I generally love well-executed tweezer food, but my god!

                                                                                                            1. re: Leely2

                                                                                                              Roasting on embers seems like the opposite of tweezer food to me.

                                                                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                It's subjective, I suppose. As far as I can tell, he doesn't seem to be roasting on embers to create anything rustic. However, I guess I didn't mean tweezer food per se. Just fine dining, with an emphasis on precision, innovation, etc. I was thinking of uhockey's glowing review and photos a a few (?) years ago:


                                                                                                                I'm sure the food is great/mostly great, but that interview tickled my funny bone.

                                                                                                              2. re: Leely2

                                                                                                                Agreed. He takes himself very seriously.

                                                                                                                1. re: nickis

                                                                                                                  That's a good thing, no? I would never go to a restaurant where the chef didn't take his business seriously.

                                                                                                                  1. re: plaidbowtie

                                                                                                                    In other words, overly self-important.

                                                                                                                    1. re: androbop

                                                                                                                      Hey, folks, we removed some posts from this sub-thread. It's fine to comment on the personality of the restaurant owner and how it comes across in interviews (though we'd prefer the focus remain on the food), but it's really not okay to comment on the personality of other hounds.

                                                                                                                      1. re: The Chowhound Team

                                                                                                                        >but it's really not okay to comment on the personality of other hounds.
                                                                                                                        you just mean "on the web site", right?

                                                                                                        1. "It was simply an internal error on our part. I think some paperwork got away from us and that briefly it went up to $651 or something like that on the SeatMe website, and it wasn't supposed to. It was corrected right away. [The chef's counter] was always $498 in my mind. ... I noticed the fact that it went up to $651 after he wrote that, and we corrected it."

                                                                                                          So today on seatme.com the chef's counter is $498, "fully inclusive of food, wine, tax and service."


                                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                            At least make it an even $500. Sorry the whole mess has been a major bungle. Not going.

                                                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                              Funny he didn't mention the hidden 5% service fee they're charging for non-chef counter tickets.

                                                                                                            2. I've been passively reading this thread over the last few weeks, and I really don't see why you're all getting up in arms about this. If you don't like it, don't go. That's it. Who cares. There's no need to get yourself worked up over it.

                                                                                                              I guess I can sort of understand the complaint about the 5% service fee, but when you're already paying that much for a meal, criticizing it seems a bit ridiculous. If you're already spending hundreds of dollars on a meal, what would be the difference if they charged 5% there or increased the price of each dish 5%?

                                                                                                              6 Replies
                                                                                                              1. re: dunstable

                                                                                                                It's called "adding insult to injury." If you are paying this much, and locking yourself into that rate, to help the restaurant manage its business and cashflow (e.g. minimize cancellations). It seems even more absurd to pay for the privilege of helping the restaurant manage its business and cashflow.

                                                                                                                It's also called "putting your money where your mouth is." How this whole system was supposed to benefit the consumer was that the customers no longer had to worry about billing/surcharges/taxes. You bought the tickets, went to the restaurant, and enjoyed the show. . .. clearly that's not what occurred.

                                                                                                                This is a trend I certainly do not want to see continued with restaurants unless they really start managing the restaurant like a concert venue. With season passes, exchanges, notifications if the performer (or this case the chef) will not be in the kitchen that day etc.

                                                                                                                1. re: goldangl95

                                                                                                                  I think it's just taking them time to get it right. Their intent is that it should be simple and easy. The chef's counter now is. Dealing with the sewage overflow and getting dinner on the table every night are probably a higher priorities.

                                                                                                                  "When we first opened Saison, it was a ticketing system and everything was pre-paid. The problem was that we didn't have the right platform. So we went to normal reservations, because it was too difficult for the guests."


                                                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                    I know they obviously didn't intend to get this publicity, and I'm sure they want to fix it eventually but the knowledge that they've already tried this ticketing platform once, and it didn't work, makes me somewhat unsympathetic.

                                                                                                                    Tickets at $250 a piece are very, very expensive tickets in the performing arts, sports arenas etc. for individual seats (re no season passes, box packages etc.). Surely, they realize that with ticketing at this price point there is a huge customer service effort that is needed to allow ticketing to be smooth, hassle free, and worth it to the consumer. (Frankly there is also a huge PR effort needed to convince people to buy and lock-in in advance)

                                                                                                                    If they don't reevaluate quickly, they'll end up with a model where people basically don't treat this as a ticketing system - just a place where you don't want to make your reservation until 48 to 24 hrs before you eat there.

                                                                                                                    1. re: goldangl95

                                                                                                                      There is a huge educational factor in getting people to change from a conventional system, i.e., call and make a reservation and pay AFTER you eat. It's also a cultural shift from the norm. If this were a $50 meal and you got a deal, I could see it working. Top of the line at $500 bucks and it just seems very difficult.

                                                                                                                      1. re: goldangl95

                                                                                                                        They tried a different ticketing platform. They think SeatMe is better. For the chef's counter, it seems great: flat price, everything included, done. The regular dining room seats, the system could use some work.

                                                                                                                  2. re: dunstable

                                                                                                                    Nobody wants to get nickle and dimed no matter how much the meal costs. It doesn't make it anymore right just because you're spending hundreds of dollars.

                                                                                                                    "what would be the difference if they charged 5% there or increased the price of each dish 5%?"

                                                                                                                    Honesty. I'd have no problem if they increased the base price of the meal by 5% they have the right to charge what they want. However, keeping the base price the same, removing the wording that they're charging a service fee, but charging it anyway is very dishonest in my opinion.

                                                                                                                    1. I'm glad to see that seatme/saison has removed the 5% processing fee when purchasing tickets and that they also breakdown the cost of a ticket into food, service (18%) and tax (8.5%) .

                                                                                                                      A single ticket is now $254 for weekdays and $318 on weekends as opposed to $268 / $335 when they were charging the processing fee.

                                                                                                                      1. Has Saison abandoned their ticket system?

                                                                                                                        I don't see a link to buy tickets on seatme.com anymore and the reservation link on their website now goes to opentable.com

                                                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                                                          1. re: PorkyBelly

                                                                                                                            I think so. I've used SeatMe quite a few times over the past two months and Saison's regular offering disappeared a few weeks ago.