“Five percent of all diners are total dicks,” says Nick Kokonas, a derivatives trader turned restaurateur who operates several acclaimed bars and restaurants like Alinea in Chicago and the Aviary in New York. Kokonas also founded Tock, the reservation platform known for its prepay model: Restaurant owners can require diners to put down a deposit, or pay for the whole meal up front, to secure a table. Kokonas built Tock, in part, to battle the dicks. By forcing people to pay, Kokonas hopes to eliminate the customers who constantly reshuffle their reservations, simply flake without notice, or who show up with extra, unexpected guests. “I’m like, okay, you’re exactly the kind of person I don’t want to go to my restaurants,” Kokonas says.
By Kokonas’s standards, Aaron, a 29-year-old who lives in Chelsea and eats out six nights a week, is a dick. He sometimes makes multiple dinner reservations for the same night, so his group has the flexibility to make a last-minute dinner choice. He almost never eats outside of his preferred window of 7 to 8:30 p.m., but he’ll grab the 9 o’clock table that’s available online and then call the restaurant to jockey for a trade. Aaron and his group also often end up ghosting the spots they don’t choose, and he was kicked off of OpenTable in 2016 for missing four bookings within a year. Tellingly, he has never used Tock. “I don’t want to commit if I can’t get my money back,” Aaron says, adding that he’s even finagled refunds on Broadway tickets by calling Telecharge and pleading with a manager.