Atera is an envelope-pushing restaurant. The avant-garde Tribeca spot is wher quail eggs arrive on beds of grass, where lobster rolls come inside macarons, and where “charcoal” is made of chocolate. Atera serves 20-plus course meals that cost $165 before beverage, tax and tip. And now you’re expected to pay for your meal before your meal, not after it. The website of the two-Michelin-starred restaurant explains it all thusly:
Sure, many fine dining venues threaten cancellation fees, but Atera is only the second NYC spot to actually require prepayment (Brooklyn Fare is the other). Chicago eaters of course are familiar with such policies at Next and Alinea, where diners pay for dinner in advance via a much heralded ticketing system.
Make no mistake about it, pre-payment works in the favor of the restaurateur, and asks the diner to forfeit the price of dinner, plus tax and gratuity. if he or she can’t make it that evening. Chef Lightner was nice enough to chat with us about this development via email, here are highlights from our conversation:
When did you start the prepayment system and how have your guests responded to it? We started the prepayment about a month ago and guests have not had an issue with it, unless they are trying to cancel last minute.
One of the interesting things about Next restaurant in Chicago, which also requires prepayment, is the high demand for reservations. When I wasn’t able to make my dinner the other year, I put my tickets up for sale on Facebook and sold them at face value within the hour, by transferring them on the Next website. Do you have any avenues for guests to resell or “transfer” their reservations? Now as far as the whole Next ticket system it is fascinating, I believe it also adds into the demand, and accessibility to make a reservation. For instance if you wanted to go see a Yankees, Red Sox game last minute even thought they are sold out you can still find tickets only difference not at face value… .We only currently charge 48 hours out so we currently do not need some form of transfer. But that might be changing soon not sure quite yet
Your menu has hovered at $165 for about half a year, by my estimation. Any plans to increase the price, as many of your peers in the “extended tasting menu” world are charging more (i.e. Blanca & Benu are $180, Brooklyn Fare is $225). Menu pricing is really dependent on the product and level of experience we are able to give our guest. Once we are able to offer the lounge, and a more complete experience that will allow us to give our guests a bit more time to dine, and for us to make more intricate and special courses…once we get to that point we may change our pricing.
Out of curiosity why is the service charge 18% and not 20%, which I like to think is the standard for good service? We believe eighteen percent gratuity is a fair place to start especially because the service has not yet been rendered. And if they get exceptional wine beverage service then it’s up to the guest to tip accordingly.
I understand you’re now doing a higher end $170 beverage pairing option, in addition to the $105 option. I’d be curious to hear how that’s being received, and whether guests usually opt for the pairings or wines by the glass/half bottle. Wine pairings have been received very well so far, we just started [the $170 option] about a month ago. We have a great selections of wine in our cellar and found it a way to pull some of those special bottles out to use in our pairings. Our guests seem to mostly go for the pairings anyways. We feel that since it is a no menu selection for the food, they just put us in their hands for the wine as well. (Matthew Lightner).
So is Atera still a BUY and a GOOD DEAL? We believe it is. If you have tickets for a Broadway play and can’t make it, you wouldn’t expect a refund, would you? Of course not, because that theater needs to make money, and because you’ve deprived someone else of not being able to see that show with your no-show.
Though the nice thing about a Broadway show is that you can sell your tickets via Stubhub or elsewhere; on that note we hope Atera and Brooklyn Fare consider adopting reliable ticket transfer policy like Next does.
We’re also stoked that Atera has instituted a clear and transparent REAL COST pricing model on its website, showing diners exactly what they’ll pay after tax and service. We were critical about pricing transparency on Atera’s website in the past and the fact that they’ve improved it is a win for consumers and a win for Atera.
As always, we present our own REAL COST pricing matrix, for those who care to know how much they’ll spend after pairings.