Maybe before this weekend, it was possible to regard Next-mania as a temporary fluke that would die down as the cycle of a new menu every three or four months became the new normal. After watching thousands of people work their computers furiously to get season tickets for 2012 (and tweet the results all weekend), at a price ranging from $631 to $765 per seat (two or four seats each; more for kitchen table) depending on day of the week and beverage pairings, it looks a lot more like a wave of the future likely to be influential in many ways throughout the industry. Nick Kokonas promises a post to the Facebook page later today breaking down the numbers for the new season of three dinners beginning with the El Bulli menu, but at one point on Saturday he reported that 6,400 people were queued up in the latest iteration of the Next ordering system, which put people in a numbered line and then admitted 50 of them at a time to pick dates.
Key to keeping this mania at a fever pitch is Kokonas' adroit use of Facebook to disseminate information (and ensure that information was still out there if the Next site itself went down under the load). Crain's has an interesting article this morning on how Facebook became an essential part of Next's marketing:
The Next website is as mysterious as a speakeasy peephole. The site is little more than a landing page to collect customer registrations. It simply states, “We are currently not selling tickets,” and it doesn't direct customers to Facebook, where all the real clues to getting a ticket are found. That's by design, to filter out the less-than-passionate, Mr. Kokonas admits.
“No, I don't really want to say exactly what the strategy is . . . but there is one,” he says. “But those who do just a basic bit of research about the restaurant are more likely to be rewarded with tickets. The person who looks to OpenTable to get a reservation is not our ideal customer.”
It also takes a look at hardcore "Next Stalkers" who share— or sometimes don't— tips about how to work the system and up their chances of getting tickets.
How Achatz's Next Restaurant uses Facebook deftly [Chicago Business]