Home Base: Chicago
Year Next Opened: 2011
Power Stat: The day the second menu at his restaurant Next Tour of Thailand was posted (in July 2011), the ticketing system crashed: There were over 20,000 unique logins.

Nearly every component of Grant Achatz's restaurant Next, which opened in Chicago last April, is a revelation. The concepts—think "Paris: 1906" or "Childhood"—change quarterly, and diners pay for tickets to their meals online, in advance, depending on date and time. "If you think about the restaurant, it really is very similar to a theater. A production comes in for X number of months. They pick up and leave, and a new one comes," Achatz explains. "It just made sense for us to go to an online booking system. At Alinea, we have reservationists answering the phone and telling people that they can't come spend money at our establishment because we're full." The chef has facilitated a sort of secondary market-cum-community via the restaurant's Facebook page, and its Twitter feed hypes the always-in-flux menu via pics, video, and commentary. "It's almost like giving people a backstage pass," he notes. "It adds a richness to the understanding of the brand—who we are and what we're trying to accomplish."

The logic behind the ticketing strategy: "A lot of times what would happen at Alinea is you would book a reservation for a four-top, and either they would completely no-show or would only show up with two people. That real estate in your restaurant—literally that chair sitting empty—makes that table not profitable. We're doing what an airline or Ticketmaster would do, right? If you buy two front-row seats to see Bruce Springsteen and your girlfriend decides she doesn't want to go at the last minute, you don't call Ticketmaster and say, 'Hey, give me my money back.'"

Why this social-media stuff shouldn't be shunned as a distraction: "I would argue that if I pick up my iPhone and send a Twitter pic from the Alinea kitchen and then put my phone back down and go back to cooking, I'm taking my eye off the ball far less than, say, another chef who is flying around the world and is nowhere near his restaurant."

How technology is going to affect his industry: "It's going to put a big dent in the number of published cookbooks. There will be more e-books, and that will, I think, dramatically impact the industry in ways that people won't expect. For Next, within a week of the menu coming out, we can have a new book online. We're planning on publishing four a year. When you're doing it conventionally, that's just not possible."

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Grant Achatz's Meal Ticket
America's Greatest Chef on Where to Find the Best Food Porn on the Internet



Rather than use social media to tell the world what he ate for lunch, the master chef tests the limits of the platforms, giving customers a backstage pass to the kitchen on Twitter and helping Facebook fans score and swap tickets for dinner at Next. (Yes, you need tickets.) When he wants to know what's appearing on plates besides his own, Achatz turns to Twitter. "Massimo Bottura [@massimobottura] in Italy is tweeting—as are Quique Dacosta [@QiqeDacosta] in Spain and Rene Redzepi [@ReneRedzepiNoma] in Denmark. It's really great for me to go, 'Oh, what is this restaurant in Copenhagen cooking tonight?'" he says. As far as the Americans go, he's most taken with a chef he never expected to see online: "Thomas Keller [@Chef_Keller] does quite good photos. He's pretty active—which is surprising. I remember we had a conversation a few years ago about how he didn't like blogs. He didn't understand why Joe Blogger was able to come to his restaurant and write a 'review,'" Achatz recalls. "Now he's tweeting away. The guy's got over 100,000 followers."

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