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Quince at the farm. Courtesy of Joseph Weaver.

Restaurants have been experimenting with new dining formats, from adventure dining to intimate dining (see trends #41 and #49 in The Future 100: 2021), as the industry adapts to pandemic-era operations. The latest to hit the stage is a membership-based model repositioning the restaurant as a high-end community center.

Michelin-starred Quince in San Francisco is pioneering the new model along with its sister restaurants, Cotogna and Verjus, and its affiliate farm, Fresh Run Farm. Called Quince & Co., the membership offers a new format for the food and drink industry—one that elevates restaurants into cultural centers offering education, community engagement and exclusive access.

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Beekeeping workshops are included in Quince & Co. membership. Image courtesy of Tolleson.

Quince & Co. is a $5,000 annual membership that includes a $1,000 dining credit, quarterly provision boxes filled with seasonal produce and specialty pantry products “only known to chefs and restaurant kitchens,” exclusive reservations and a series of educational workshops like beekeeping, olive oil pressing and learning how to pickle and preserve. Perhaps most notable? All 80 spots sold out just weeks after launching earlier this year.

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Quince at the farm. Courtesy of Joseph Weaver.

Lindsay Tusk, who owns the restaurant group with her husband Michael, says that the idea came about after the pandemic made it painfully clear that restaurants need to find a new way of operating that diversifies and multiplies their revenue streams. “My intent was to try to come up with a stream of revenue that was reoccurring and paid in advance to create more stability,” Tusk tells Wunderman Thompson Intelligence. The current model for restaurant operations—which is almost entirely dependent on cash flow—is not sustainable in a volatile economy. “The money that [restaurants] earn one week pays the bills for the three weeks prior, so they’re always in a very precarious financial situation,” she says. In order for restaurants to survive, “we have to look at different models.”

And a membership-based model was a logical choice, Tusk says, given that subscription models have a well-established precedent of success. “Subscription and loyalty programs have played a role in so many other aspects of consumer life and behavior—whether it be Netflix, or your yoga studio or your juice bar.”

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Quince. Courtesy of Bonjwing Lee.

But the real appeal, she emphasizes, is the opportunity for loyal regulars to deepen their relationship with the restaurant. “I think one thing that the pandemic has brought is a realization among many people that restaurants are really important to their quality of life and their community. I think this time has highlighted the emotional connections that people feel to restaurants. So, [Quince & Co] is a way of taking those feelings, that very loose relationship, and creating more structured engagement—taking your clientele or your regulars and making them actual stakeholders, codifying that relationship,” she explains. “We’ve created a community; this is our way of taking it to the next level.”

As New York City mayor Bill de Blasio said almost a year ago when announcing the first wave of mandated restaurant closures, “these places are part of the heart and soul of our city.” Initiatives like Quince & Co. point to a future where that “heart and soul” is not only enriched, but is cemented at the core of business operations.

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