Egalitarian dining: Momofuku Ko

The big talk across New York food blogs and message boards is all about this new restaurant in the city named Momofuku Ko, run by chef David Chang.  Now, besides bringing fantastic adventurous Asian cuisine, as evidenced by his James Beard awards, Chang has also brought something new to the restaurant scene: rapid, online, daily reservations for one of the twelve seats at the sushi bar.

Momofuku Ko

The idea is to eliminate all this VIP business when it comes to reservations.  If you take Per Se or Jean Georges for example, an average person needs to make reservations two months ahead of the reservation to the day, and even then it is nearly impossible to get in.  As a VIP, however, you could easily walk in the night of and be seated at a prime table.

This demonstrates a clear demarcation of importance in restaurants: those who are known can dine more easily and are treated much better once inside, through better service or additional, special courses.  This has been and is the norm at most high-end restaurants for as long as they’ve been around.  David Chang is mixing that up, though: VIPs do not get any special treatment.  Anyone who wants a table at the bar must log into the website at exactly 10am each morning and furiously click through to log in and hope that a chair is available.  Nobody is treated any different than anyone else: all are seated at the bar as equals, each seat as prime as any other, and all present have gone through the same trials of ensuring their coveted spot.

I think this is egalitarian dining at its finest.  To be clear, I’m sure that every diner is treated as royalty once inside.  That is to say, just because everyone is equal does not imply lesser service: quite the contrary, it ensures equal levels of high-quality service to each and every customer.  I absolutely love this concept, and although I wish Chang had more than 12 seats available, I think he’s on to something great.  To me, this system serves to remind us that dining is about the food: a chef is an artist, and a restaurant experience is that of art appreciation.  To present opportunities to appreciate the art unequally would be to deprive an audience of an experience that they deserve as equally as anyone else.

There is a great article on Wired about Momofuku Ko and this type of reservation system that can be found here.  I hope we start to see more reservation systems like this and less 2-month waits, and I also hope I can get in to eat at Ko soon!

Mark posted this on July 2, 2008 and is filed under Musings.

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