The Ultimate Guide To Restaurant Waitlist Apps in 2024

These days, waiting in a queue on a restaurant waitlist tends to be a common dining-out experience. A popular and successful restaurant brimming with a full dining room always looks like a place where everyone wants to be. Fine dining restaurants tend to take reservations, fitting with a more formal, exclusive atmosphere and a slower pace of dining.

However casual dining establishments with a restaurant waitlist tend to prefer the ‘first-come-first-serve’ model to:

  • Speed up turnover
  • Seat more guests
  • Avoid no-shows

If your restaurant uses a paper waitlist to manage guest turnover, read on below for the latest information on digital waitlists, including what they can do for you.


Figure 1. Ristorante Italiano (NYC) by Michele Ursino via Flickr (creative commons 2.0)

So… You’re thinking about ditching the Paper Restaurant Waitlist?

What you’re doing today may seem easy, fast, and uncomplicated. It may seem like the only way to manage queues and waiting times. Not true. Here are a few reasons why you might want to bin the books and reconsider using a paper waiting list:

Static Workflow

Let’s say you want to see how many people are waiting. You might be in the back office, the kitchen, or on the floor speaking with a customer. O.K. — that means you have to stop what you’re doing, go to the host stand, and ask whoever is managing the waitlist to see your guests. Isn’t this a hassle, and doesn’t it take up needless time?

The Rush

In every busy restaurant across the world, there comes an hour (or hours) of the day when customers come piling in, and the busiest hours are always stressful. Imagine there’s a big crowd: some customers are asking when a table will be ready, others are asking how much longer for the table you promised them; staff members are running around trying to take care of customers, and your solution to managing this headache is pen and paper. This is a hectic situation. 

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a few more tools in your belt? Even something as simple as allowing two staff members to take down customer names at the same time?

Messy handwriting

It’s human nature: when we’re rushing, our handwriting becomes sloppy. If you’ve ever had to stop and ask a co-worker to decipher sloppy handwriting, you’re not alone. Nothing would be more frustrating than losing customers due to an illegible name or missing customer details.

Handle with Care… or Lose Guests

Paper and food don’t mix. Spill a drink on the guestlist and — well, it’s like flipping a table. You have just lost an entire afternoon’s business. Enough said.

Employing a New Restaurant Wait List

Until recently, there were no alternatives. But today with a digital waitlist, we do things differently. This guide explains how a restaurant wait list app drastically reduces all the headaches — the overbearing crowd, the hungry queue, the indecipherable paper waitlist — making you and your customers much happier.

To sum up, here are some of the issues restaurants face when using a paper waiting list:

  • Disorganisation
  • Extra work
  • Increased Stress
  • Loss of Guests

The pen-and-paper waitlist may seem like a simple solution. Too often, however, we don’t stop to think that the lack of a more organised system affects restaurant workflow and dampens the overall customer experience. Who likes to wait in line constantly looking into the restaurant and hoping a table opens up when they’re hungry? No one.

Read more: Keeping Tables Full With a Wait App for Restaurants.

When customers are waiting in line and don’t know how long they will have to wait, the queueing experience becomes incredibly frustrating. With food on the brain, standing and waiting can feel like a lifetime.

Restaurant operators and their guests deserve better. They deserve a waitlist system that fits their needs, facilitates workflow, and improves the customer experience. The proof is in the pudding: a waiting list app could change your world and the customer’s experience of dining out.

A Smart Solution for Managing Queues: Restaurant Waitlist Apps

The world is going digital — and so is the restaurant industry. Today, many online services and technological tools for restaurants exist, including food delivery apps, online review services, social media platforms (like Facebook and Instagram for promotion), QR-coded menus, and much more (check here to find out about other restaurant apps).

Today, restaurant online services also include restaurant waiting list apps that help restaurants seat more guests, eliminate queues, and improve the workflow.

Never underestimate the power of a wait time quote. Learn more about why you need to quote restaurant wait times customers.

In sum, a restaurant waitlist app recreates the waitlist on a smart device, like an iPad or Smartphone. Just like a regular waitlist, a digital waitlist helps keep track of the customers waiting to be seated in the restaurant, only better.


Figure 2. El Patron Restaurant by Alan Light via Flickr (creative commons 2.0)

Here are some benefits:

Digital is Safer than Paper

The waitlist app is on your phone or tablet. So even if you have a fit of madness and decide to throw your phone (or iPad) on the floor, damaging or losing a restaurant waitlist system is quite difficult: it’s saved in the cloud and available to access from any phone/device. Since you store customer details digitally, restoring the waitlist is easy.

Text Message Waitlist

Using a digital waitlist, you can text customers their estimated wait time, then press another button to text the customer to return, informing customers their table is ready. Wave goodbye to the physical queue; guests no longer have to wait in line.

Have App, Will Travel

You can access the waiting list from any phone or tablet — iOS or Android. Staff members can log in remotely on their phones. This means the waiting list travels in their pocket, accessible from anywhere in the restaurant. As a manager, you can check in on the restaurant from anywhere — the kitchen, back office, or even when you’re away from the restaurant.

Now, you may be thinking: “If I allow my customers to leave, they won’t come back”. You may also think that “customers don’t check their SMS ”. Good news: these thoughts are mere myths. Learn more: 5 myths about restaurant queues.

A Quick Qualifier — Which Restaurants Need a Digital Waitlist App?

O.K. — so you’re probably thinking: “Is this for me? Would this help my restaurant?”

A digital waitlist suits a specific restaurant type, particularly regarding service and waiting times. Simply ask yourself a few questions:

Fine Dining or Casual Dining?

Reservations fit a formal atmosphere. When it comes to fine dining, asking customers to wait fits awkwardly with the restaurant’s image. But if your restaurant ditches the table cloths and the classical music, if you allow customers to eat with their hands — if instead of holding a table, you prefer to seat the next guest in line — then a digital waitlist could suit your tastes.

Table Service with Host Seating Customers?

The waitlist is for seating more guests — not for placing orders, right? Whether it’s a dedicated host, the manager, or even a member of staff, restaurants with waitlists will have someone who walks customers to their table, then seats them. Typically speaking, the customer also orders and pays from the table. Sound familiar? This is what a restaurant waitlist system is for.

Dishing the 20—30 Minute Rule?

The burden of a 10-minute wait is low — for the patient, a piece of cake. But when the wait approaches 20—30 minutes, hungry customers become irritated customers; there is a significant chance many will leave the restaurant. Restaurants with long waiting times use a digital waitlist to eliminate the queue, to keep their guests (and themselves) happy.

Read more: 6 common wait quotes from restaurant customers.

Get Ready: Choose the Right Restaurant Waitlist App

You don’t need much to implement a restaurant waitlist app. All you need is a smartphone (iOS or Android).

And sure if you want, you can add a tablet. The choice is in your hands.


Figure 3. People After Work by Rawpixel Ltd. via Flickr (creative commons 2.0)

4 things to Look for When Choosing a Restaurant Waitlist App

Every restaurant is different. But when it comes to managing queues, for any restaurant there are some basic needs that a waitlist app should fulfil. Here are 4 things you should consider when choosing the right waitlist app for you.

  1. Simple and Easy to Use

Restaurant waitlist apps should be simple, easy to understand, and a breeze to use. When looking into a queueing app, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is it easy to navigate the app from screen to screen?
  • Are buttons, icons, and text large enough to read and understand?
  • Can I use it on my phone? (Imagine carrying a tablet around the restaurant all day, or only having the service available on a computer)
  • Is it available in my native language (also consider the language for any customer messaging)?
  1. Is it designed for Restaurants?

Beware of apps that promise too much — the so-called “waitlist for everything” kind. Restaurants have different needs from, say, hotels, hospitals, post offices, clothing, or mobile phone stores. So, make sure you pick a restaurant-focused waiting list app, that offers features designed specifically for you, the restaurant operator.

  1. Features, Features, Features

So what are the restaurant-focused features you need? Here are 10 waitlist features that you might want to look for:

  1. SMS Messages to Customers — allows you to easily notify customers (they should be pre-programmed and customizable).
  2. Two-way Communication — just as important as the SMS to customers; plus, you’ll need an inbox to receive customer replies.
  3. Multi-language Support — sets both the app and customer messages in the local language, including a tourist setting.
  4. Available on All Phones — iPhone and Android: everyone can log in and collaborate.
  5. Wait Timers — these make life MUCH easier.
  6. Table Numbers — allows you to speed up seating.
  7. Seating Areas — enables you to consider indoor/outdoor seating or other areas of the restaurant
  8. Reservations — granted: even if you’re exclusively walk-in only, from time to time you may want to record a reservation for a special friend, or a large party.
  9. Table Chart — you plan where customers will be seated.
  10. Stats — easy to forget; but quite insightful.

Check here for the full and expanded list of feature recommendations.

  1. Stacking bread? Check the Costs

Monthly usage, feature sets, SMS fees – These are among a number of different ways that companies divide and slice up costs. Here are several pricing schemes that you ought to consider. Then, decide what works best for you.

Monthly Fee (Flat monthly fee: Volume Usage, Locations, etc.)

Some waiting list apps have a monthly fee (usually divided into different plans going from Basic to Premium/Pro). Basic plans are cheaper, with few essential features. On the other plate, premium plans come with more features, including device synchronization, multi-location management, and much more.

Sometimes, plan tiers include usage limits. On the plus side, this fee is flat (meaning, costs are all included). But there is also a downside: during slower periods, it’s easy to forget to drop down to a lower payment tier.

Text Message Charges & SMS Fees

All companies must face transactional costs for sending out text messages. One way companies charge the restaurant is via a per-SMS fee.

For apps that send text messages to customers, the pricing structure marks up the cost of each text delivered. This can be a fair way of charging for usage. Yet it’s hard to predict how much you might spend in a month.

Per-Person Fees

Similar to how reservation companies typically charge restaurants. The per-person model charges for each person seated via the system. For restaurants that have long queues, this cost will add up significantly.

But wait. It might be worth asking why pay on a per-person scale when the waitlist app is not driving new demand? Instead, the waitlist app is managing the demand at the front door.

All these options cost money. But there remains a final alternative…

Carbonara App: a Digital Waitlist App for Restaurants

While several digital waitlist apps are available today, the Carbonara restaurant waitlist app fits well with the industry’s current needs in many ways. Here’s how.

Restaurant Features

We’re here to help. The Carbonara app is industry-focused, including features like:

  • SMS notifications
  • Two-way communication
  • Device synchronization
  • Wait Timers

These features make sure you keep your restaurant’s waitlist management on track. Compared to a paper-based system, the Carbonara app pays attention to your restaurant’s needs — using the above features to optimize your interaction with customers.

(Pssst . . . the Carbonara app also includes restaurant reservation features. Read more: How Online Reservations Work.)

Customisable Features

Stand out from the crowd. The Carbonara app contains user customisation features, which cater to your restaurant’s needs. This includes:

  • Multi-Language support
  • Customisable SMS (edit notifications you send to guests)
  • Seating Areas (such as indoor/outdoor)
  • Guest info (i.e., children, wheelchair, high chair)

If your restaurant attracts customers from across the globe, then language features will come in handy. Now you can easily interact with customers from a variety of backgrounds, cross-cultural borders, communicate with native speakers and second-language learners — all at the click of a button.

Unique Insights

Let’s get technical. The Carbonara app also offers a Daily Statistics Report which includes:

  • How many guests were seated AND not seated
  • Average wait time overall
  • Average wait time per hour

This information helps restaurants to provide accurate waiting times for guests, mostly when the restaurant is busy. Our free waitlist app for restaurants provides up-to-date wait times that will reduce the chances of losing customers during those busy hours.

Friendly Design

Let’s face it. A restaurant waitlist app should be easy to use. That’s why the Carbonara restaurant waitlist app has a simple design. We designed it for you, the phone user, to be used on smartphones.

  • Simple interface
  • Quick notifications
  • Easy to navigate
  • Plus user support features (e.g. country codes)

Why not read more about the benefits of a virtual waitlist app?


Lastly: the Carbonara app is affordable 

Curious to learn more and try it out? Download here

And if you have any questions, feel free to contact us here.

For more about the Carbonara App: