From the supermarket to the post office, we have all stood and waited in a queue — and restaurants are no exception. A line of people standing and waiting happens because:
- demand exceeds table capacity
- walk-in restaurants serve guests from a single point — the door
- restaurateurs think there are no other options
Some restaurateurs view a steady stream of guests as their best advertisement; others see it as a constant problem.
However today with mobile technology at hand, the continual line can be avoided.
In 2021 with restaurant software fully available on the market, the no-queue restaurant should now be firmly on the menu for customers worldwide. Here’s everything you need to know.
Figure 1. Queueing at Restaurant by Robycrux via Flickr
Why We Join the Queue
Restaurant lines have a long history, dating back to ancient days, but modern ideas of the queue have their origin in nineteenth-century Europe. With the advent of urbanisation and the creation of the restaurant as we know it today, “queue” began to refer to a process of “one after another” in both America and Britain.
Since then, both businesses and restaurants have employed this system to manage guest intake.
A contemporary restaurant’s pen-and-paper system operates on a first-come-first-served basis. Customers will enter, then shuffle into line, while a staff member serves them in order of arrival.
More intricate systems will log guest details and involve a lot of paperwork. Find out why a pen-and-paper system is bothersome for restaurants.
Ticket-based management is also a popular system, involving numbered tickets that go through the guestlist by number, but comes with a few problems. Paper-based tickets are easily lost, and this can cause delays or even prevent someone from joining a queue.
Some restaurants use pager systems, a form of on-site communication allowing customers to leave and remain in the restaurant’s vicinity. However, restaurant pagers tend to be bulky and have to be carried by hand. They also tie customers to the immediate local area — they restrict customers from doing what they like.
Why Physical Queueing is Bad for Business
It may seem like the only way to manage guest inflow. However, today with technology at our fingertips and a better understanding of what customers want, asking guests to line up is really an old-fashioned concept — read about why it’s a myth to think otherwise. Here are a few reasons.
Queues: a Restaurant’s Worst Advertisement
From a customer’s perspective, long waiting lines are a strong deterrent. Imagine you’re in the street and you find a long procession outside your restaurant. A study at University College London showed that most customers are unwilling to wait in line for six minutes maximum — no more. So if nearby restaurants have tables available, customers will probably dine there.
Unknown Wait Times are a Hassle
Customers would prefer to know how long their wait will be — not to stand in line with an interminable stay in sight. “People feel more anxious,” one restaurant consultant has said, “if they don’t know how long they have to wait”. Giving an accurate idea of how long the wait will mean they are more likely to relax and stay, but with a physical line predicting accurate to-the-minute wait times can be a pipe dream.
With a single file of incoming people flowing out the door, restaurants may try entertaining their guests or handing out free samples to improve everyone’s waiting experience. Dishing out samples however costs your kitchen time and your business extra incurred expenses.
Long Queues Frustrate Customers
Having to wait in line is annoying and frankly creates frustration. If people are waiting for longer than they first expected, they’re already starting out as unsatisfied customers. Your staff will have to strategize and find solutions to counter potential complaints, creating unnecessary stress. With difficult customers being an inevitability in the restaurant industry, isn’t it easier to ditch the physical line altogether?
Figure 2. Queue at Hola Paella London by Garry Knight via Flickr
Introducing an App for Queue Management
Queue management software is simple: it transfers the physical line to a virtual waitlist, digitally handling a restaurant’s list of guests. It allows guests to enter a waitlist via a mobile device, or online; anywhere from their home to the bar next door.
A queue system targets the four main problems associated with physical lines:
- Poor representation — a line looks bad to incoming customers
- Unpredictable wait times — and today’s guests are unwilling to wait for long
- Extra expenses — your restaurant loses money
- Guest frustration — restaurants lose guests due to long waiting times
A restaurant queue app has adapted to our instant digital world. Customers now expect ease of service — not lining up when it is no longer necessary.
Just look at how technology has eliminated queues in other sectors. In supermarkets, customers can now scan groceries as they shop, avoiding checkout waiting times. With online banking, account holders can now make transactions and organise finances without having to do it in-branch. As one BBC report recently put it, in today’s world “queueing is very often superfluous”.
Currently, there are many digital options available on the market. Restaurant owners will have to consider pricing schemes, ranging from high to low.
First, when weighing up options, restaurants will have to ask themselves what sort of lines they have dealt with.
Figure 3. Queue by Giulio Gigante via Flickr
How a Queue Management System Works — Requirements
Every queue-handling option is different, but all systems need the restaurant operator to address the type of traffic their restaurant usually deals with. To find out, ask yourself these questions.
- How Long? Some restaurants are famous for their long queues. Before 2020, Dishoom in London for instance boasted an average 1—2 hour wait. Whatever the size, a digital system works around your population of customers — the number of people you serve. For most walk-in restaurants (like Dishoom) an unlimited amount is the norm, meaning that if they have to, your customers could line up at the end of the street.
- Location, Location, Location. Think about the method of arrival — is your restaurant located in a busy city street or do you have a car park, sitting further away from urban centres? This will determine the time interval between arriving guests, determining their arrival pattern, and finally the size of your queue.
- Are you being served? This refers to your restaurant’s service mechanism — resources and staff services. There are three things you need to ask yourself and observe: (1) How many servers? For instance, is there more than one member of staff greeting customers at the host stand? (2) A single-file queue or various lines? (3) How long does it take to usually serve someone?
With all this in mind, it’s time to weigh up software features.
Queue Management Software — Features
Since the 1980s restaurants have used technology to handle their queues. Restaurant pager systems became mainstream particularly in places like the US, allowing customers to wait in the restaurant’s vicinity, buzzing when it was time to be seated.
However in 2021, this method is outdated.
In the wake of COVID-19, restaurants are now adopting contactless methods, such as QR-coded menus. Also, using pagers is costly compared to a modern alternative — an app’s 2-way communication features are far more accurate and easier to use. Handing someone a pager when they already have a smartphone sits uncomfortably in a restaurant’s way of doing things.
An app for queue management is the complete opposite — portable and easy to use. When looking for the right app, here are a few things to consider.
Features Focused on Queues
Here are 5 features that you want to look for:
- Virtual Queue — allows customers to wait remotely, ditching the physical rule altogether.
- SMS Notifications — lets you easily notify customers. Don’t forget to look out for SMS programming, including customisable features.
- Two-way Communication — allows you to send simple text messages to customers, informing them of their wait (remember, apps should have an inbox to receive customer replies).
- Multi-language Assistance — permits you to set apps in a local language, including tourist settings for international guests.
- Wait Timers — helps customers massively, giving accurate up-to-date times on how long they will be waiting in the virtual list.
Ease of Use
Mobile apps should be completely easy to use, focusing on completing one task really well. With this in mind, a restaurant app should fulfil three basic criteria:
- The app should be easy to navigate, simple to travel from screen to screen.
- Text, icons, and notifications within the app should be large enough to read.
- The app should be optimised for all phones/systems, Android and iPhone.
When it comes to SMS features, there are few things to bear in mind. You will want to send confirmations and wait time notifications to your restaurant’s customers — but this may come at a cost. Here’s a brief overview
- Monthly fees — this is where a company will charge you a pre-established fee, accounting for location and usage. Sometimes an app will charge a flat fee, costs all included. However, during slower periods, your restaurant could lose money, paying more for a service it isn’t fully making use of.
- SMS fees — facing transactional costs, some companies charge on a per-SMS basis. So each text your restaurant delivers will also come with a small fee. The only disadvantage is this: it’s hard to calculate or predict overall costs.
- Per-person fees — this is a per-person model that charges for each person the queue app processes. If your restaurant has long lines, per-person costs can climb.
5 Reasons Why You Should Use a Restaurant Queue App
So you might be thinking, “Does it work?” The short answer: yes. An effective app makes the job easy. Here’s how.
Decreases Wait Times
First, apps save both customers and restaurants time. The simple process of joining a virtual line remotely or inputting someone’s name and phone number is very easy. Instead of being at the host stand handling the physical line, restaurant staff can now complete other tasks, while using their phone to receive incoming customers. Quick and simple.
Reduces Customer Anxiety
In 2015 the Washington Post reported that 15 percent of customers find waiting lines overwhelming. This may sound surprising, but this problem has existed for a long time. In the 1980s a US psychologist directed a field study observing customer behaviour and found that a significant amount of participants experienced anxiety — so great the BBC reports, that they were “visibly pale” and suffered nausea.
A restaurant app welcomes all customers with a simple, easy-to-do process, reducing anxiety from ever occurring.
Eliminates Long-standing Queues
Most obviously an app dispenses the physical line, allowing customers to be elsewhere. This frees up space in your restaurant, curbing any related problems — for example, staff having to navigate through impatient customers.
Enhances Guest Experience
Rather than standing in line guests can do whatever they like while they wait. They can also check the status of their wait whenever they feel like it — an app offers them a more concrete idea of when they will eat. A simple text message waitlist means the process of waiting is no longer a hassle. Read how a virtual approach successfully lets customers leave to return later.
Boosts Guest Personalisation
Management software allows you to know your guests, helping your restaurant develop lasting relationships with clientele. This is easy: with inbuilt databases, your restaurant can know a customer’s tastes, preferences — even upcoming special occasions.
With all these great things in mind, it’s now time to discuss an important factor every restaurant owner will need to consider: the cost.
The Price of Queue Management Software
Restaurant owners will inevitably have to weigh up the costs of software. Here’s a sum-up of what most companies are looking for.
Top companies charge a monthly fee, billed annually, averaging several thousand GBP a year. Bigger businesses usually go with this plan, but another option is to pay for a location fee (per branch), which is typically more expensive. Monthly plans range from standard to pro options, with SMS notifications and app customisation being limited to restaurant owners that are willing to pay more.
Some systems go the extra mile and provide device kiosks (e.g. iPad at the front door), fully customisable to suit your restaurant’s style. Of course, this comes at a price: Both installation and the cost of hardware sometimes come with the plan your restaurant chooses, but can also go on top as an extra cost.
If your restaurant chooses a basic plan, most companies will offer add-ons — extra services and features to make their system better. For example, analytics is a common add-on that companies sell to help your restaurant develop data-driven tactics improving waitlist management.
So what else is there? What about an app that is truly free with all features included?
Carbonara App: Free Guest Management for Restaurants
The Carbonara App helps your restaurant minimise wait times, personalise guest management, and enhance customer experience all completely free.
Fostering a faster, more enjoyable waiting experience for guests, Carbonara App also comes with free analytics. As your restaurant manages guest intake your email inbox receives regular statistics reports, providing a breakdown of goals most relevant to you — your restaurant’s average wait times for example.
Read our beginner’s guide to analytics to find out more.
Unlike anyone else Carbonara App also absorbs all SMS costs — one hundred percent free.
Curious to try out the first-ever truly free app to avoid the queue at restaurants? Let Carbonara App help you positively transform how you interact with guests and download today!
Find out more: