New Twin Cities Restaurant Replaces Reservations with Prepaid Vouchers

New Twin Cities Restaurant Replaces Reservations with Prepaid Vouchers

Gavin Kaysen's 20-seat Demi works to take the risk out of restaurant economics.

Demi, Gavin Kaysen’s newest addition to the Twin Cities food scene, opened February 15.

It joins a tiny minority of restaurants in the Twin Cities that offer prepaid vouchers for meals rather than simply guaranteed reservations. Despite the approach, which treats a dining experience like a nonrefundable event ticket, reservations to Demi’s first weeks sold out in a matter of minutes.

Kaysen says having customers pay for the meal ahead of time (a practice also employed locally at Travail), allows him to “budget backwards.” Most restaurants create business plans and budgets and make a pro forma guess about how many diners will visit on a given evening, what they will order, and how much they will spend. This helps explain why the restaurant business is such a notorious high-wire act with high failure rates.

Here, Kaysen knows exactly how much revenue he will bring in and can optimize raw materials and labor to meet his prepaid sales.

Demi customers have two menus to choose from: the $95 Barrington Menu, which includes a two-hour “tasting experience” at the kitchen counter, and the $125 WC Whitney Menu, which is a two-and-a-half-hour experience that adds a few courses on the Barrington menu. An assortment of wine pairings are also available for additional cost.

Kaysen made it clear that, while Demi is small (1,200 square feet with the capacity to seat 20 at a seating and 40 per night), it is not a side project. “I would never put this much effort into anything if it was a side project,” he says. Demi is expected to be profitable out of the gate and mimic dining experiences popping up in America’s most ambitious dining capitals.

Kaysen’s Spoon & Stable and Bellecour will continue to operate on the traditional pay-after-eating system. He says restaurants are “like kids—they each have their own personalities, their own needs.”

Demi, befitting an exclusive experience, presents itself to the market accordingly.