With a virtual queue, sometimes the hardest thing about seating guests is getting them back indoors, ready and prepared to eat. Discover how standby seating can seat guests in a short time, creating a revolving door system of your restaurant’s tables so you can streamline incoming guests efficiently.

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Figure 1. Colourful Restaurant Seats by Garry Knight via Flickr

Summary — What’s Inside:

What is Standby Seating?

Standby seating is a clever way to use your restaurant’s digital waitlist. It is a tactic that can save customers the hassle of a painstaking wait, keeping restaurant tables full.

It’s not complicated — in fact when using a pen-and-paper waitlist, it’s possible to employ such a tactic. The clue is in the name. To have customers waiting and ready to be seated means they’re on standby.

Let’s say a family of four, the Smiths, are waiting in the restaurant lobby. They have stood around for ages. The parents are concentrating on being patient, while their children are eager to have dinner — all of a sudden a busy staff member comes to the host stand and calls: “Table for Smith? Yes? Thank you so much for waiting.” 

When the family approaches, the staff member knows someone else is clearing and cleaning the Smiths’ table. So they chat with the family and keep them happy, seating them when the table is ready. The children can finally eat; the parents can afford a sigh of relief.

The point is simple: have the customer ready so when their table is prepared, they can be seated quickly and efficiently.

For restaurants using an SMS waitlist, things are a bit different. Here standby seating allows guests to roam freely, avoiding the possibility of waiting for ages in the lobby.

Using callback features, standby seating avoids the lobby wait, making service more convenient for the customer. Then standby seating brings them back to tables when needed — reeling through the waitlist on an ad hoc basis.

How Does it Work?

With the Carbonara App, the idea is simple — call customers to be seated before their table is ready. This means sending a free SMS alert 3—10 minutes in advance of a free table. 

Say one group of guests are preparing to leave. A staff member will use the app to notify the next customer(s) to return, making sure they’re present to immediately fill the table when cleared. 

In this scenario, while staff clear the table the next guests will wait (30 seconds—5 minutes) to be seated — being on standby.

So, what if preparing the table takes longer than expected? Maybe the previous guests decide to stay a little longer. What then?

Easy: be courteous and chat with the walk-in party. This way you’re using conversation to divert attention from the wait itself. Once the table is ready, then seat the guests.

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Figure 2. Au Vieux Paris by Pedro Szekely via Flickr

How Does Standby Seating Enhance Queue Management?

A lot of restaurateurs fear a digital system because they think allowing customers to leave will only extend the restaurant’s overall waiting times: For example, an empty table waiting on a returning guest is an unwelcome prospect…

Suffice to say this is a myth.

Some restaurateurs underestimate the sufficiency of allowing customers to leave and come back. The process allows customers to use their time better; hence they’re likely to accept a longer wait. We discuss this more in our article on letting customers leave to return later.

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Figure 3. Lark Chicago Outdoor Seating Area by Kurman Communications Inc. via Flickr

How is Standby Seating Smarter Than Other Methods? — Top Tips

As easy as it sounds when employing standby seating, there are a few things your restaurant should consider.

Tip 1 — Check the Time

Understand that a longer wait time (45—50 minutes) may prompt customers to drift off. If this happens you will need to account for how long it will probably take them to return. Otherwise, a 5—10 minute wait is nothing at all; these customers will likely remain close by.

Tip 2 — Know your Local Area

The general public now makes over 133 million Google searches for “places near me”. As such, your customers will be on the lookout for attractions next door. Bars, parks, shopping centres — anything that will keep people occupied may slow down their return. If your local area brims with spaces to kill time, then make sure to reach out to these customers earlier than usual.

Tip 3 — Recall Multiple Parties

Busy night? Then it’s safe to recall more than one party at a time and have them there on standby. Guests will return at different speeds; this presents an opportunity for you to maximise turnover. For example: if two dining tables are opening and two parties of four are waiting, then it won’t matter who returns first, for you seat these guests as soon as they arrive.

How does Standby Seating Improve Customer Experience?

The benefit of standby seating is two-fold: 1) it improves guest experience and 2) streamlines your restaurant’s seating.

Tackling in-person waiting lines, Big Hospitality, a newsletter, has advised restaurateurs to make queues memorable.

But what about ditching the queue altogether? Surely that’s better for those waiting? Customers would rather be dining or using their time more productively than waiting in line. Big Hospitality added that restaurants can avoid the queue happening: “Today’s tech-savvy consumers expect to be able to do everything on their smartphones . . . so use the latest technology to make it easy for them.”

Standby seating drastically reduces the wait burden for customers. Waiting with a host for 2—5 minutes is much preferable to standing in a queue for over 45 minutes. Even with free samples included, no one wants to wait in line.

Have more questions about standby seating? Or how you can make the most out of a restaurant waitlist app? Message us with any questions you have or check out our ultimate guide to waitlists for a list of features and more.

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