Six Sure-Fire Ways to Win at the Waiting Game

Sponsored by Nowait

Congratulations! If you regularly have a significant wait for seating in your restaurant, you’re doing at least a few things right. Your place is popular, folks are willing to join the queue to eat your food, and you are frequently at full capacity. But that wait can easily go very wrong. 

A long wait for a table, when improperly managed, can create hangry customers who never return or worse, inspire unfair one-star reviews. 

Below are six strategies to make waiting less onerous for your guests and to keep them happy while they wait to enjoy your restaurant.

A hostess with the mostest.

Be honest. The role of host is often an afterthought. But think about it, this is the person providing guests a first impression of your restaurant and controlling the flow of your business! Do not make that impression a gum chewing, face in phone, surly teen who could really care less. Nothing provides a worse guest experience than a run in with a bad host. 

When you’re on a wait, you want your guests to feel confident that your host is in control, providing accurate information, and putting their experience first. We all know staffing is a challenge, but don’t skimp here.

Knowledge is power.

Mistakes happen. It’s unavoidable. But it’s how you deal with those rough patches that turn customers into regulars

Picture this: A four-top is quoted 30 minutes but ends up waiting two hours and they’re clearly not okay with it. Does your host spend 90 minutes trying to avoid eye contact or does she level with them, explain the situation, and offer a free appetizer for their inconvenience?

Be proactive! Train your hosts to offer the level of service you would provide yourself. Sure you can’t predict the future, but reviewing a short list of common scenarios and providing guidelines for how to handle them can go a long way. 

Feed me, Seymour.

Successful chain operators like Hillstone use menu sampling as a really simple tool to keep guests happy.

Let’s say you are featuring a special steak on your menu. Cook one off at the height of the wait and have a host offer the samples to guests. No, you won’t fill them up on free food. Yes, you may convince just one or two guests not to abandon the wait, which easily covers the cost of the food items you burn. From experience, this strategy works and elicits amazing feedback from guests. Hey Expo, fire a basket of our famous chicken fingers for the lobby please! It’ll pay for itself and more.

The truth shall set you free.

Let’s get back to basics now. Hosts should always quote accurately and provide honest updates whenever requested. 

Waiting for anything stinks. Which is why you should NEVER underestimate (or overestimate) how long guests are waiting to be seated. Guests understand the concept of waiting for a table, so don’t be fearful of quoting a wait. Be fearful that you misquote it and make someone angry that wouldn’t have been, had you been honest or accurate. 

The good news is that with today’s technology your hosts no longer have to guess or be continuously bombarded with questions. Check out Nowait’s Smart Quote Technology which estimates the wait 2X more accurately than humans AND allows your guests to check their status right from their phones.

Let guests wait where they want.

If you don’t have the space to accommodate guests, or even if you do, why not let guests wait wherever they want? Whether that’s at nearby stores, strolling around the neighborhood or even at home, you’re guaranteed to have happier customers when they feel they’ve gotten their precious time back. 

How do you accomplish such a feat? Upgrade your analog waitlist management (ie. pen and paper + shouting names) to digital on-demand dining. With Nowait, guests can check the wait in advance and get in line virtually. If they show up at the host stand, they just give their number and receive a text when their table is ready.

We should also note that the company just integrated with Yelp so more and more guests are starting to expect this kind of service. 

Turn the damn table.

If a guest is waiting for a table, you can be assured they notice any empty tables going un-cleared or reset in your dining room. If you are busy enough to have a wait, then you are busy enough to justify a dedicated person for cleaning and resetting. Nothing can grind a kitchen and servers to a halt like reseating tables in bunches, so avoiding that situation is a priority of any good seating management strategy.

This must be a top of mind management hot button. By prioritizing quick reseating, you efficiently shorten table waits, avoid fewer guests abandoning the list, and improve the overall flow of the restaurant.