Virtual Queue: If Customers Leave Will They Return?

Let’s be honest: People can’t stand queueing — especially when they don’t know how long the wait will be — and customer surveys have proved it. Big Hospitality has revealed that 89 per cent of customers have left restaurants due to excessive queueing.

It can be a hard fact to accept because restaurateurs already know queues are unavoidable at peak periods. A combination of high demand mixed with limited table capacity will ultimately force customers to wait.

Although many businesses have tried to transform waiting into a more pleasurable experience (from handing out free samples to encouraging “mindful” queueing) the heart of the matter is this: Customers would rather be doing something else.

So why not let them?

The easiest way around this age-old problem is to let customers spend their time more happily: to allow them to leave the queue while waiting for their tables.

At first glance, this solution may seem counterintuitive. How does letting people leave the queue eventually increase the number of customers you seat?

Below we show you how this method works. We discuss how Carbonara App enables you to let customers leave and have them return later.


Figure 1. Queue at Acme Oyster House by Lars Ploughman via Flickr(creative commons 2.0)

A Queue Restaurant is a Hassle for Customers

In any circumstance, standing around and waiting in line is bothersome. Be it a supermarket line or a bustling queue outside a clothes shop during a summer sale, customers are rarely thinking about how they can savour the queue experience. Really, they’re thinking about a way out.

Restaurant queues are a different story. Customers are waiting to fill their stomachs and when hungry, this can be a painful thing. This is well-known. In fact, restaurateurs have coined the term “hangry” to describe the hungry and irritated — customers who have stood far too long for their meals.

This irksome combination of hungry and angry can create difficult scenarios for the restaurant. A customer who feels like they’re waiting forever will grow impatient and likely vent their frustrations to the manager. Discontentment over wait times also opens up avenues for complaints or negative reviews online. Otherwise, guests will get annoyed — and most likely leave.

Most would agree a 10—15 minute wait is doable. But when unexpected circumstances — i.e. staff shortages, kitchen delays — extend wait times to longer than initially promised (15 minutes becomes 30 minutes becomes 45 minutes, etc.) then problems arise.

But there are alternatives. Other industries champion the leave system. Take for instance the auto-repair industry. Customers with faulty vehicles will go to a garage, where the mechanic will propose a time to return. Customers leave then come back when their vehicles are ready.

Or what about the tailoring industry? Same again: the tailor measures a client, tells them when their clothing will be ready, then the customer returns at a designated time. The same can be said for businesses doing floral arrangements, bookshops that take orders, outdoor shops that lend equipment for certain times, etc.

Restaurants should adopt a system that offers guests the same level of service. Instead of waiting in line growing “hangrier” by the minute, customers should be allowed to leave — to enjoy themselves while they wait.

Restaurants Want to Have Their Customers Present

Restaurants naturally fear letting customers go to wait elsewhere. But the method is far from risky because virtual queues prioritise better customer experiences.

A customer will happily spend time elsewhere, having drinks at a bar or admiring new clothes in shops. But their real destination is the next available restaurant table. After all, this is why they came out in the first place.

Customers leave in the knowledge that they will eat later. They’re getting out of the trap of standing around for an hour and get to enjoy that time elsewhere.

Look at the success of the airport economy. When you enter an airport, you go in knowing you have a long wait ahead — hence why a great deal of airport space is dedicated to duty-free shopping, places to eat, and entertainment. Flyers don’t suddenly leave the airport because their wait will be long, and the same can be said for restaurants. Allowing customers to leave will guarantee them a better overall experience.

wine bottles--virtual queue--keita kuroki--flickr.com

By Keita Kuroki via Flickr (creative commons 2.0)

With the virtual queue, it’s Easier to Let Customers Leave

Place emphasis on the guest experience. When your restaurant lets customers go, their experience is one of freedom — not tied to a spot with little else to do.

Ever heard the phrase? A watched clock never moves — leave it alone and you’ll grow up. Apply this logic to the physical queue and you will solve the problem. When elsewhere, guests forget they’re even waiting for tables; being preoccupied could help in forgetting their temporary hunger. So for the “hangry” customer, this is good news.

Sending an SMS to Customers Brings Them Back

Quick and instant, an SMS waitlist app easily manages guests leaving and returning to your restaurant.

This works via two-way communication. The customer leaves their details with you. Then you use their phone number to send an SMS when their table is nearly ready.

Good waitlists also come with a super-helpful feature: wait timers. These give customers up-to-date estimates of their wait, meaning they’ll arrive back at the exact moment to be seated.

This feature offers parties a feeling of security: if the customer knows exactly when their table will be ready, they’re definitely going to return. The restaurant can now rest easy knowing exactly when customers are coming in, right down to the precise moment.


Add a customer to the queue with a phone number and the customer receives a pre-programmed (and customizable) message confirming that the customer is on the waitlist.

A Waiting Time App is Accurate — Restaurant Feedback

In practice, guests love this freedom. Just picture yourself in this situation: would you rather queue or do as you please for three-quarters of an hour?

Restaurants who have already employed this system have commended it for providing a stress-free solution.

Maggie Fu, for instance, is a popular restaurant based in Liverpool, England. Usually, they have an astonishing two-hour wait — a time impossible to lower due to high turnover. This wait is inevitable, but customers don’t have to suffer. Now customers send over their details and do as they wish during that time.

When asked why Maggie Fu decided to take on this system, the proprietor said they “needed” it. “This app had all the features we were looking for.”

Over in Italy, Don Peppe is also a busy restaurant. Only this time they’re located in a shopping centre. Employing an SMS waitlist made their minds feel “lighter” as customers now leave their details and go around the shops without having to wait outside.

If a queue-free system already works for these restaurants, why not try it out yourself?

To know more, learn more about the virtual queue and  waitlist features, and let our app for restaurant wait times help your guests have positive all-round dining out experiences.