For 12 years, diners have flocked to Schwa in part for the devil may care atmosphere, an irreverent approach to fine dining from a talented kitchen staff led by chef/owner Michael Carlson. The Schwa experience included rolling the dice when it came scoring a reservation; tables could only be secured through the phone. Perhaps that was part of the restaurant’s allure, but it repelled some potential customers. That changes starting today, as diners can now book tables online via Tock. That’s the reservation platform from Alinea Group’s Nick Kokonas.
In essence, diners are going from wondering if Schwa is open for the night to being able to pre-purchase their meals for dinners in October through January. For reservations through September, diners can still call the restaurant. Carlson and chef de cuisine Norman Fenton considered a few factors when making the decision. The first was having to answer customer calls and booking the reservations themselves. Schwa doesn’t have servers as the chefs trot the food out to diners themselves. It’s not like they’ve hired a receptionist to answer calls inside the unassuming Wicker Park storefront along Ashland Avenue. They’ll now have more time to be creative in the kitchen rather than answering the phone, Fenton said. Schwa’s staff is infamous for not picking up the phone.
But the bigger challenge was deciding whether reservations would alter the Schwa experience. They ultimately decided Tock, a “cutting edge platform,” as Fenton described it, was the right decision. None of the ethical questions, including OpenTable’s antics, affected the decision.
“You’re still going to get our personality, you’re still going to get our food, you’re still going get our experience,” Fenton said. “...It’s just another outlet for diners.”
It’s also practical: “Think about it, it’s 2018: how many times did you book a reservation by calling restaurant?” Fenton said.
Schwa’s alums include Noah Sandoval (Oriole) and Brian Fisher (Entente), two chefs who run Michelin-starred kitchens. Tock could potentially open Schwa up to new customers, diners who may not be aware or into Schwa’s rebellious punk rock ethos. But as along as diners care about culinary craftsmanship, they don’t care.
“It doesn’t matter if we get a cook or this person or that person — we won’t discriminate against who comes in here,” Fenton said.
He added: “The phone number still works, you can still call if you want to talk.”
Maybe try the website instead.