Chances are that you've been in a situation where you're dying to check out a super hot eatery, but there's constantly a huge line and they don't take reservations. Or you've called a restaurant and had the hostess explain their "no reservation policy" before you hang up feeling frustrated. Restaurateurs have long been looking for help finding the sweet spot that keeps table turnover high, customers happy, and lines reasonable. Luckily, it seems like a recent technological advance is helping tip the scales: the mobile waiting list app. Here's what you should know about this offering.
Taking the Tech Plunge
Many restaurants have realized that dining out is an experience that begins long before the entree arrives, and some establishments are working toward streamlining the experience they offer their customers by investing in mobile waiting list apps. Some apps allow diners to see available reservation times and can tell the restaurant when prospective diners are expected to arrive on premises.
In an article from Mobile Marketer, Djamel Agaoua, the senior vice president of Cheetah Mobile in San Francisco, says, "Guest management platforms will definitely become a de facto feature for every restaurant brand to provide in the near future." He adds, "If they don't offer it in their own apps, they will [do so] by a third-party app such as OpenTable or Yelp's SeatMe."
Agaoua argues that it's not just about turning tables around more efficiently, which is, admittedly, the bane of a lot of operators. He says that it's also about knowing your customers' preferences, their visitation frequency, and spending patterns. Plus, the option to stay at home, browse nearby shops, or merely stroll around the neighborhood until your table is ready is likely preferred over waiting in a cramped foyer or a line outside.
What to Watch Out For
There's a mix of new and more established waiting list apps you can choose from. Street Fight highlights six of them, including NoshList, QLess, and NoWait (NoWait was specifically developed for fast casual restaurants that don't generally take reservations). Some have messaging capabilities, others share daily menu specials, and most give users the ability to wait in line virtually.
When offering this mobile service, it's key for brands to be "buttoned up in their execution," says Kelly Pellico, vice president of mobile innovation at Millward Brown in Los Angeles, in the aforementioned Mobile Marketer article. The price of not being "buttoned up" is that establishments run the risk of damaging their brand. She adds, "Joining wait lists via mobile raises expectations of the dining experience; if the expected wait time is not accurate when they arrive, consumers will be frustrated." Ensuring punctuality and a properly trained staff to manage unforeseen circumstances or situations is necessary to be effective.
The waiting list app approach is a boon to customers who hate waiting or are last-minute decision makers and haven't made a reservation in advance. However, some restaurants are hesitant to employ technology. For instance, co-owner Veronica Laudes of the popular restaurant Carmen in Toronto's west end says they'll continue working the phones and using a traditional reservation system. "For us, personal contact is very important, and we save money by doing it the way we do. We don't have to worry about a system going down, for starters," she says. "And people can still call or wait with a good glass of wine or cocktail at the bar—that will never go out of style."