John Walsh: Why is booking a restaurant, theatre or gig now so demeaning?

Whether it's the vogue for restaurants that won't hold a table or concerts you have to buy tickets for a year in advance, I have reservations

Share

The playwright Jez Butterworth, whose Jerusalem was a transatlantic smash hit, has a new play out in October at London's Royal Court. The theatre bosses say they're expecting a "huge demand" for seats to The River – and, to help fans, they've arranged that no tickets can be bought in advance. They're also staging the play in the 90-seat Theatre Upstairs for a more "intimate" feel. Aspiring playgoers will need to hit the online booking facility at 9am each morning, along with several hundred other hopefuls, for their "allocation" (of – what, 45 seats?) or join a free-for-all at the Court's box office in Sloane Square from 10am for the remainder.

One marvels at the producers' ingenuity. This way they'll create "demand", the kind that'll guarantee a West End transfer, where people will happily pay above-average prices because it's a "must see". It’s a remarkable show of contempt towards the public. They’re not just being charged ever-higher prices for seats at a show – they’re being offered carefully limited access to those seats. “Yes,” the producers say wearily to playgoers and to music festival-goers, “We will allow you to pay us £100 a pop for tickets to our little entertainment. But we will make you jump through hoops to get them, because we do not give two hoots about your convenience. Suck it up, losers.” Does it sound a bit demeaning? Yes it does. And it’sthe newest incarnation of the gonzo booking phenomenon that's sweeping London, taking with it rock concerts, restaurants and art exhibitions.

Once it was simple. You rang the box office/restaurant/gallery, asked if there were seats/tickets available for a certain evening, they named a price, you paid with a card, both parties said goodbye and you told your delighted partner of your booking. Now you're likely to wind up in a rain-swept queue or using your iPhone to cudgel your brains in frustration. You can choose what drives you mad: it's either No Booking; or Impossible Booking.

At a dozen trendy eateries – the MeatLiquor burger bar, 10 Greek Street, Russell Norman's "bacaro" chain – as with The River there's no booking. At the MeatLiquor you're expected to queue for 45 minutes; in Soho, you're shooed away to sit in a scabby boozer until they call you. In Polpo and its sister houses, you're expected to mill about by the bar. "We were waiting for a table at Spuntino," one diner told me, "being elbowed by waiters, drinking our wine in a draughty corridor, pretending it was all fine, and my friend said, 'You know what? Our parents would never have put up with this'." Elsewhere, by contrast, bookings are gold dust. At the Wolseley in Piccadilly, or the Ivy in East Street, unless you're a friend of the management, they'll shake their heads sadly. You won't get near The Fat Duck or Scotts of Mayfair or Locanda Locatelli in weeks. Try the howlingly trendy new Dabbous and you'll be told nothing's available for four months. Soon London will be as exclusive as Manhattan. Ring Per Se in New York, owned by Thomas (The French Laundry) Keller, and you'll be told that the restaurant is fully booked "in perpetuity".

Rock fans will be familiar with the high-pressure online ticket scramble for seats at major concerts – Madonna, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Florence – which sees the fan fruitlessly tapping a laptop, or phoning on redial, shortly after 9am, trying different websites for tickets, before being told no seats are available for that date or time, and redirected to marked-up tickets at Seatwave.

A similar situation afflicts our noble art galleries, where the crush to attend well-reviewed exhibitions means visitors must now book a time slot. When I tried to buy tickets to Hockney at the Royal Academy, all slots were taken. I had to pull strings to get two tickets – for a one-hour slot at 8 o'clock in the morning.

It doesn't have to be like this. Theatres needn't join the Ticketmaster and Seeticket monopolists in making audiences scramble for seats. They can sell most seats early, but hold others to sell on the day to spur-of-the-moment drama fans. Restaurants should allow people outside their circle of 500 favourite patrons to eat under their roof. Galleries could install moving walkways to usher patrons past the exhibits rather than encourage them to stand stroking their chins.

We are the masses. We're the public. It's time we complained about being treated like chickens to whom some grain is contemptuously hurled from time to time by the impresarios of modern culture.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee