A full restaurant with a crowd of people waiting to order or be seated is usually an indicator of success. An efficient kitchen and skilled servers ensure diners don’t wait too long for their meals and deliver an outstanding customer experience.
However, the wait before patrons can be served often proves more challenging. Waits may sometimes be inevitable, but they represent missed opportunities for restaurants. Consider:
The additional staff required to manage the queue and maintain the waiting area
The poor experience customers have while they wait, never quite knowing when they’ll finally be seated
The fact that customers are spending extra time in the restaurant without the chance to spend extra money while they wait
Restaurants may not always be able to make waits shorter, but they can make them better for the customer. A digital queue management system, in which customers receive alerts and notifications of their place in line on their smartphones, can help create a better experience.
Perhaps more impressively, this burgeoning technology can increase sales via the wait screens sent to customers’ phones. In this way, restaurants are creating opportunity from the simple act of waiting.
Most commonly, diners at a traditional restaurant enter the queue by giving their names to a host and waiting to be called when a table is ready. Some restaurants may give customers a buzzer that vibrates and lights up when their turn arrives.
Digital queuing follows the same general principle. Customers enter the queue by scanning a QR code, entering their information into a kiosk, or sending a text message to a system-specific number.
Once in the digital system—which essentially replaces the “list” a host might otherwise keep—customers receive updates to their smartphones via text message. They can then tap the message to pull up a wait screen on their browser that not only gives them estimated wait times but also allows them to make special requests (e.g., a high chair, a table on the outdoor patio, and so on). Moreover, customers aren’t required to download an app to use the system; everything they need is already on their phones.
With digital queuing, customers feel less intimidated to check in, and with a QR code or text check-in, they won’t have to wait in a line simply to get their name on the list. Also, hosts can be more focused on seating customers and answering questions—if as many hosts are even needed because an automated queue handles most of the process.
A long wait in a crowded lobby—without any good idea of when a table will be ready—can be frustrating for restaurant customers. In the COVID-19 era, that crowd makes patrons even more uncomfortable. Plus, there’s always the worry of not hearing your name called over the noise of the restaurant.
Digital queuing transforms the customer experience so that waiting isn’t so annoying. For starters, customers aren’t forced to stick around a designated area as they wait. They can sit at the bar, step outside for some fresh air, go for a stroll, or anything else they want—knowing they will get an alert on their phones when their table is ready. Even buzzers have limited ranges, making customers stay close. Virtual queuing frees people to wait on their own terms, and often, the wait doesn’t seem quite as long.
Secondly, the system automatically sends estimated wait times based on parameters the restaurant sets and data gathered over time. That takes the burden of guessing off the host while giving customers a better idea of what they can do if they choose to step out of the lobby.
Finally, the system can prioritize certain customers based on how long they’ve been waiting, the size of their party, or their VIP status. Those details are difficult to keep track of manually, but the queuing technology handles it automatically.
All this adds up to a better experience before people even order their meal. And when customers are happy with their experience, they tend to spend more, leave better tips, post positive reviews, and become repeat customers.
Maybe the greatest potential of digital queuing technology is with wait screens—what customers see when they tap on a notification sent from the system. You already have the customer’s attention, and you can use that to promote your restaurant.
For example, a wait screen can advertise a new menu item, influencing the diner’s order before they sit down. Or customers can be encouraged to book reservations for a holiday—and then click on a link to do so.
Customers love value. When you send digital coupons while they wait, they can apply that value immediately. As a result, patrons actually benefit from waiting—what they perceive as a negative has now become a positive.
Furthermore, the system can trigger certain wait-screen promotions based on the length of the wait, other triggering events, and past customer behavior. If, for example, a wait is taking longer than expected, a digital coupon for a free appetizer—one that the customer has ordered before (if the system is integrated with the restaurant’s other systems)—can be automatically sent to the person’s phone. If the customer has abandoned the queue on a previous visit, that coupon can appear as soon as they check in as a sort of apology for that bad experience.
Customers have so many options today on how they want to dine. Restaurants need to be creative and proactive to ensure those customers are choosing them. With digital queue management—and the wait screens available in the technology—you can emphasize the customer while marketing to them at the same time.
Steve Covate, Vice President of Sales, Qtrac by Lavi Industries