Daniel Patterson's Coi restaurant in San Francisco. Photo by Maren Caruso.

Why Daniel Patterson is now serving the bill first

The Coi chef has switched his restaurant to a ticket system as he strives to ‘do something really great every time.’

How would you feel if you arrived at a Michelin-starred restaurant, to discover they could no longer accommodate your booking? You’d probably view it as a distasteful surprise, from a business that prides itself being hospitable. And yet, argues chef and Phaidon author Daniel Patterson, restaurants have to accept similar behaviour, when diners cancel at the last minute or fail to show up at all.

Some places, such as Patterson’s Coi restaurant in San Francisco, levy a no-show charge to customers who cancel within a few days of their booking. However, Coi is beginning to put in place an entirely new reservations system, already familiar to concert goers, airline travellers and theatre buffs.

From September, Coi will ask diners to buy tickets for their meals, choosing a time and date, via a Coi’s new online system. You can see the new system here. As the restaurant explains on its site, pricing will vary from $145 to $195 for its set menu, depending on the time and day.


Chef and Coi founder, Daniel Patterson
Chef and Coi founder, Daniel Patterson

By taking payment in advance, Patterson says he can run not only a more economical restaurant, but also one with more exacting culinary standards. “Our restaurant is about perfect consistency,” he tells Eater.com, “Every table, every customer, every dish perfect. The most important thing is not just that it's great once in awhile. Anyone can be great once in awhile. The hardest thing is to do something really great every time.”

Ticketing discourages no-shows, and so enables Patterson and his team greater control over what they need to serve and when. “This system, because it would diminish these huge ups and downs, what it will do is allow us to staff more appropriately,” he says, “to spend more time focusing on the guests that are actually coming in and not just moving reservations around, which occupies many hours a day.”

He adds that, while the tickets are non-refundable, the restaurant will try to take extenuating circumstances – such as significant travel delays – into account, and that Coi will still attempt to accommodate a little walk-up trade, as well as single diners, who cannot currently book by the new ticket system. Ultimately, the chef believes, tickets will lower bills at Coi, rather than increase them.


Daniel Patterson's Coi restaurant in San Francisco. Photo by Maren Caruso.
Daniel Patterson's Coi restaurant in San Francisco. Photo by Maren Caruso.

The system Patterson is using was pioneered by the Chicago restaurateur and former derivatives trader Nick Kokonas. Though Kokonas developed his system for his own restaurants, he is already offering it to two other places besides Coi, and hopes to have ten of the Worlds 50 Best Restaurants on his tickets by the end of the year.

Of course, it’s hard not to be put off by a system that wrests power from the consumer. Yet, as Patterson explains, he’s devoted to pleasing his diners, and, if they never make it into the restaurant, he can’t do his job. 

“As a cook, that is all you want to do, to make people happy,” he says. “But if they're not in my restaurant, I can't make them happy. And there's not one molecule of my being that feels any differently about how important it is to be 100 per cent focused on hospitality and people's happiness. And everyone in the restaurant feels exactly the same way. In fact, we think it'll get us closer, that this will actually improve us.”

We certainly wish Coi and Patterson well. Read more from this really interesting interview here. And for a greater understanding of this thoughtful and innovative chef’s work, buy our Coi book.