Location: Tampa, Florida
Platform: QLess, OpenTable, Facebook
Bottom Line: Mobile waitlist management systems increase the time that customers are willing to wait for tables during peak restaurant hours.
It’s a scene familiar to anyone who dines out regularly: A crowd of people hover around an overwhelmed restaurant host, waiting to add their names to a waitlist and anxiously asking how long it will be before they’re seated. Meanwhile, hosts holler out the names of guests whose tables are ready, only to find that many of those guests have gone to the bar or left the area altogether.
At Datz, a bustling restaurant in Tampa, Florida that seats at least 600 people during a typical weekend brunch, manager Tonya Rogers was struggling to keep up with wait times that were only made worse by the establishment’s growing popularity.
“Our restaurant is two floors, so when you’re looking for someone, you have to look for them downstairs, and you’ve got to go upstairs, hoping that they’re still there and they didn’t leave, because sometimes the wait can be pretty long,” Rogers says. “It just took so much time, and we weren’t able to seat tables as fast as we liked. And then aside from that, by the end of the day, after screaming everyone’s name, your throat hurt.”
Despite her first-hand experience dealing with “unmanageable” wait times, it actually wasn’t Rogers who came up with the idea to implement a digital table management solution at Datz, it was her boss, co-owner Suzanne Perry. Perry had heard about a waitlist management application called QLess from an industry peer, and told Rogers that it would be worth checking out.
“With us having such high volume, especially on the weekends, we would get too packed. Pretty much everything demanded that we find some kind of new system,” Rogers says.
Within a few weeks, Rogers had implemented the mobile waitlist management system at Datz, and she was asking customers for their cell phone numbers rather than their names.
“You can text yourself into the wait. Once you do that, [the system will] communicate back with you just like you were texting a normal person. It’ll ask you how many are in your party. You would then put however many it is, and it adds you into our QLess system. Right then, it’ll send you a quote and it’ll let you know exactly how long the wait is,” Rogers says. “Aside from that, you could also just call the restaurant and say, ‘Hey, would you add me to the list? I want to do a call-in.’ We put all your information into the system. Once you’re in there, it does the same thing. It’ll send a text message to your cell phone, and it’ll let you know exactly how long the wait is.”
Aside from streamlining operations at the hostess stand and cutting down on the number of phone calls her restaurant receives, Rogers says the mobile waitlist management system cuts down on no-shows and walk-outs by giving guests a way to leave the line, rejoin the line, and ask for more time when necessary.
“Basically whenever a table gets up, we can summon the next party. It’ll send them a text message and lets them know that their table is ready, and literally within minutes people will be at the host stand,” Rogers says. “We ask what the last four digits of their cell phone number is, and then we show them to their table.”
To promote the mobile system, Datz added information about QLess on its website and its Facebook page, which has more than 28,000 “likes.” Rogers says her employees have gotten used to explaining how the system works to people who still prefer to call the restaurant rather than texting, as well.
“Sometimes people can’t add because they forget their phone, [but] it’s not that they don’t have the technology or they’re afraid to use it,” Rogers says.
Adopting a mobile system for waitlist management hasn’t impacted reservations at Datz. The restaurant still offers guests the option of booking ahead through OpenTable, and even includes an OpenTable widget on its website. However, Rogers says there are people who now prefer to add themselves to the waitlist rather than making a reservation because of the flexibility that the waitlist provides.
“If you still need to run a couple errands before you show up, if you wanted to add your name and leave and wait at home and come back, it’s the same thing. And it gives you updates the entire time,” Rogers says. “So it’s kind of like having a reservation, but you don’t have to stay there and wait.”
Rogers says she feels like Datz has gotten busier since it started offering a text-to-wait option for guests, in part because people are more likely to add themselves to the queue even when the wait seems longer than average.
“People tend to wait longer, and they stay on the waitlist longer because they are free to roam and do other things,” Rogers says.
By integrating mobile waitlist management platforms into their business operations, restaurants may be able to increase the length of time that guests are willing to wait for tables. This makes it possible to get more customers seated in the average day or night, and ultimately boosts the bottom line for restaurants.
Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.