It seems difficult: despite long wait times, busy walk-in restaurants have to ensure their waiting customers will eventually come through the door to be seated.
So how can restaurants rest easy, making sure hungry customers will hang on until the wait is over? Many experts found the answer is simply to be more honest: to quote restaurant wait times for customers.
Quoting a figure has proved to be a timely and effective strategy for restaurants, reducing the customer’s frustration of having to wait a long time. Here’s all you need to know.
Figure 1. Wine at Restaurant by Park City via Flickr
Summary — What’s Inside:
What’s actually going on when a customer decides to wait at your restaurant? Every guest knows they have an inevitable wait ahead — and at high-end restaurants, most people are willing to wait hours for a quality meal.
Most customers will expect to wait for a set duration, so restaurants must reconcile their own average intervals with what customers believe is long enough before they decide to ditch the queue altogether. In this sense, wait time refers to the amount of time a customer will tolerate standing in line.
The challenge is this: How do you convince customers that your restaurant isn’t wasting their time?
As part of studying restaurant wait times for a living, many specialists have realised the problem is not the wait itself. Rather, the problem is the sense of uncertainty customers feel when they’re part of a seemingly never-ending queue.
Without any idea of how long they may potentially wait for, customers grow dissatisfied and end up eating out elsewhere. Truth be told, if the wait feels interminable, then who blames them?
This is an important feature that has positive outcomes for restaurants.
Qiuping Yu is an assistant professor in business analytics at Georgia Tech. She is an expert in operations management and has studied the efficacy of quoting time intervals for waiting customers.
Yu is interested in the nitty-gritty of how to improve the overall wait experience, and in one restaurant case study, she discovered that providing wait time estimates shortened everybody’s dwell time. Impatient customers who disagreed with the figure would leave, freeing up space, meaning less time to wait for the remaining customers.
More to the point, Yu found that a business’s ability to make accurate wait time estimates was crucial because this increased a customer’s tolerance for the wait ahead. “Improving your ability to estimate actual wait times is therefore a worthwhile investment,” she said.
One company even developed a highly effective method, providing probabilities to accompany wait time quotes. Suppose a quote informed the customer there was an 85 percent chance they would be served in 5—10 minutes. The above research found that, in this case, customers were more willing to stay.
Customers will remain when they know precisely how long the wait will be. A quote provides an additional level of transparency which helps to bolster a customer’s trust in your restaurant’s service.
Figure 2. Crowded Restaurant by Image Catalog via Flickr
Providing an accurate idea of restaurant wait times is a service, is a signal to the customer showing them that a restaurant values their time above everything else. It is a sign of goodwill.
In fact, holding back this information should be avoided. It only creates distrust; like refusing to tell a good friend a secret.
Ryan W. Buell at Harvard Business school has shown that restaurant customers appreciate and place a higher value on the service being offered when a business shares the reasons why a customer has to wait. He has called this ‘operational transparency’.
When a restaurant quotes a wait time and explains to a customer how long it will be, the customer becomes more involved in having to wait for a table. “No matter how long people had waited,” Buell observed in one study, “they always considered [the service] more valuable when it showed the work it was doing for them”.
As a result, restaurant wait quotes vastly improve customer satisfaction — especially if during that time you let the customer leave to do what they like only to return later, an innovative method that works.
We all know the saying: “Time flies when you’re having fun.” But recent scientific research has slightly remixed this well-worn phrase.
As it turns out, people forget the time when they have an exact goal in mind. This works because goal-orientated activity usually involves positive emotions or states. Knowing you’ll be seated in forty minutes, ditching the physical queue, and receiving an SMS message when your table is ready has countless possibilities to improve the customer’s experience.
Further research has proved that positive experiences related to restaurant wait times influence return behaviour. The more confident a customer feels about an average wait time, the more likely they’ll soon return for more.
So how can a restaurant formulate wait time quotes?
We all know how to calculate an average, but when it comes to a restauranteur’s daily duties, data collection presents a problem, that is, attempting to manually calculate each customer’s waiting time. Reasonably speaking, restaurateurs are not going to stand with a stopwatch, pen, and paper to count how many people are waiting for how long, etc.
A wait time calculator automatically does all this for you. See our beginner’s guide to analytics to find out more.
Figure 3. Stopwatch by William Warby via Flickr
Queueing is a universal annoyance, and if other walk-in restaurants have tables available, there is little reason for your customers to stay in line.
This is why customers need wait time quotes as opposed to being asked to join the queue. While waiting in line locks a customer in place and makes the wait bothersome, a virtual queue offers customers freedom while they wait. It’s music to their ears.
No matter what you experience in restaurants, nobody likes to be tied to the spot. Carbonara App is always here to make the customer’s experience more pleasant — so get in touch right away!
To find out how a wait time restaurant can make the most out of waitlist apps, check out our ultimate guide. Why not enhance your restaurant waitlist today? Download Carbonara App, completely free, and let us help you improve your restaurant wait times.