HOW IT HAPPENED
Grant Achatz created what some have called a temple of molecular gastromomy (an expression that means really creative presentations that stretch food science and taste) in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood. Known for his deconstructions and creative flavor profiles, Alinea is one of only a dozen restaurants in the US to achieve the coveted Michelin 3-Star status, which they have held since 2010.
I target dining out in each of these restaurants for $100 a shot, with travel, taxi, and meal included. I missed my target my first time around (I'm sure my learning curve will improve over time!) But, I did unearth some interesting tactics worth sharing.
I live in Chicago, so the logistics of this leg of my trip around the world are particularly easy. I drove there for cheap by using an Uber $20 ride code (click to get your own). My ride would have been $18 each way from my home downtown (which, by the way, is where you're likely staying if you're in a hotel) to Alinea. With the code, it was an extremely affordable $0.
Grant Achatz has created a truly unique experience that blurs the lines between performance art, cuisine, and design. My full review is available here.
Alinea uses a novel ticketing system that allows you to buy a table for a certain number of people at a specific time. As of early 2015, an early weekday table is around $210 a person, while a weekend prime-time table (630PM-830PM) can be $275 per person or more.
1. I posted an ad on Craigslist looking for unwanted gift cards. Most people who contacted me were willing to accept 50% of face value for their cards. Often these are given as wedding/culinary school graduation/big-deal presents, and not everyone who has them has going to a 3-star restaurant as their biggest financial objective. Most people were reasonable and polite, but don't forget to confirm the value of the card with the restaurant before you buy. And, as always, follow Craigslists' rules to avoid scams.
2. I signed up for Alinea's Facebook page and stayed tuned in for last-minute tickets or offers. This didn't turn out to be as useful in reducing costs- Alinea offered only slightly cheaper tickets at prime times- but was crucial for finding convenient tickets at Alinea. On their site, most reservations were at least a few weeks out, but their Facebook page often sells day-of or day-before seats. The best strategy is to sign up at restaurants you like and see what gets published- Alinea seems to understand how to engage their audience and posts what people want to hear (tickets/available seating). Sidebar: Alinea has 55,000 Facebook likes, while their cross-town competitor Grace, who mostly posts food photos: 4,700 likes. Go figure.
3. I looked for people who wanted to abandon their tickets. Plans change, we know that. Alinea has a pretty generous ticket exchange policy. Due to the aforementioned costs, not everyone has gaggles of friends willing to pick up a $300 ticket a drop of a hat. A quick Google search for "selling Alinea tickets last minute" can bring you a long way. Some folks were willing to split their cancellation fee at Grace, and buying someone out of their tickets beats adhering to Alinea's cancellation policy if you're traveling or don't have anyone to transfer the tickets to. There were actually quite a few folks selling their ticket (and most asked for full face value); offering 80% of face value is as high as I'd go. This is a better tactic when you need tickets closer-in.
4. As I mentioned earlier, I got a free ride using a $20 Uber code a friend gave me. If you're in town and visiting from elsewhere, Uber will change your life if you've never experienced it before. I now use it almost daily (especially when it's freezing cold outside).
GO MAKE THIS HAPPEN FOR YOURSELF:
If you have any questions at all, contact me here. Would love to talk about this with you!