Photo by Caitlin Abrams
One of the biggest Minneapolis restaurant stories of 2015 is certainly the way that molecular gastronomy party palace Travail made the leap from lines down the block (year after year) to a ticket system.
A couple months in, the obvious questions arises: Are people buying the tickets? Is it working out the way the owners hoped, making a more predictable seating pattern for the workers, and a more enjoyable dining experience for the customers?
Two of the several co-chef/owners, James Winberg and Mike Brown, both say: Is it ever.
“It’s been going great, actually. It couldn’t be better,” Winberg says. “We’ve had very little negative feedback, and what it is tends to come from Internet people who don’t understand that a ticket is really a reservation.”
To the haters, Winberg has this message: “If you don’t want to come in, don’t come in, it’s fine. Stick to your guns on that. It’s your prerogative.”
For the non-haters, Winberg says they’ve turned into a national destination. “When they purchase tickets we have their billing address—suddenly we’re seeing people literally from all over the country, and every suburb. Chicago, New York, Seattle, Houston, tons from Fargo, lately, for some reason, Eagan, Wayzata, Eden Prairie. It makes sense. If you know you can get in you’re a lot more likely to commit to the big travel, or if you have a ticket to Minneapolis for work or a conference already you can plan the trip better.”
So far, Winberg says, what they’re seeing is tickets are getting sold out about a month ahead. They haven’t had much cancellation because of, say, sudden illness. “When it has happened, they called or e-mailed and we work with them. If they let us know we’ll look at what’s available and if we have something swap their ticket [for another night.]” The famed Saturday night line does still exist, Winberg and Brown say, though in highly diminished form.
From the initial rollout the Travail crew has tinkered with the different price levels, which had run from $50 per person (with a $15 tip and tax fee) at 5 p.m. Wednesdays to $95 per person (with a $27 tip and tax fee) at 7:45 p.m. on a Saturday. Now some prices are cheaper, especially the early 5 p.m. and 5:25 p.m. seatings on Fridays, which are now down to $60; early 5 p.m. seatings on Thursdays are now down to $50.
Was it seeing the top-tier tickets routinely sell out that made them decide they will soon start offering another tier of service and food, namely a $200 per person, three- or four-hour, 12-person table offering a themed experience? No, they say, that was purely a creative decision; with so many good sous chefs running their station, Winberg, Brown, and some of the other founders wanted a new place to push their own limits. Watch for those tickets to pop up soon at the Travail Tempo Tickets site.
And have other restaurateurs contacted Travail about how tickets would work for them? Yes, many have, Brown says. He tells them all the same thing: It only works for tasting menus or for similar experiences where all guests get the same experience, such as parties, fundraisers, all-you-can-eat chicken feeds or whatnot. “No one actually likes showing up for an event at the door and finding out they can’t get in,” Brown says. “Give the people what they want.”
Speaking of what people want, Brown guesses we’ll see tickets for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, New Year’s Eve and the like in a big way going forward.
At least one local restaurateur is taking the Travail ticket route: This August when Landon Schoenefeld does his kitchen table, so far called Birdie, at his new modern diner, Nighthawks, he plans on only being open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and selling tickets. “It’ll be tasting menu only,” Schoenefeld says. “Ten courses. A spontaneous menu that changes every week, it will be produce-centric, and accommodate vegetarians and vegans. I think the people who want to come for a 10-course meal at Birdie are going to be really great.”
“Landon’s a good friend, he’s a brilliant cook,” Brown says. “When we talked to him about it we were like: Yeah, man. You should fucking do tickets. People that want to eat at Birdie want to be able to plan that out. It’s a very specific experience you’re giving those people, those eight to 12 people who come specifically looking to be fed by Landon. Why not make it easier for them to plan out? We told him: We’ll give you the format, man, we’ll get you hooked up over at Tempo, we’ll get you hooked up. You’re gonna love it.”
P.S.! The Prevail Travail big outdoor barbecue party is coming up, $10 tickets are for sale and we have the inside scoop on bands. So far it’s the Mike Munson Duo, Gospel Machine, Brass Messengers, Whole Lotta Zep (a Led Zeppelin cover band!), and DJ Abilities & Carnage. The menu is out too, it’s going to be elote (roasted corn), avocado with carne asada, cheddar wurst, shrimp tacos, chicken legs, and oysters. Featured beers will be from Surly, Fulton, and Bauhaus, with possible other guest beers. There will also be sangria and cold press coffee by Tiny Footprint.
Travail, 4124 Broadway Ave. W., Robbinsdale, 763-535-1131