Turning away eager customers when your restaurant is too busy can be a painful experience. If your business is struggling with thin profit margins, walkaways can be even more damaging.
This is why waitlist management is essential. Rather than simply turn away customers when your restaurant is full, you need to establish a system to effectively manage your queue.
Now is an important time for venues in Australia and New Zealand to consider restaurant waitlist management. Many businesses continue to struggle with staff shortages, which can make table turnover more difficult.
Additionally, ongoing inflation in the region makes any lost revenue especially tough to swallow.
To help out, we've compiled a complete guide to restaurant waitlist management. It will assist you in understanding the tools and methods you can use to seat as many happy customers as possible.
What is restaurant waitlist management?
Restaurant waitlist management is the process restaurants use to seat waiting customers as efficiently as possible. This involves accurately letting customers know how long they will have to wait for a table and meeting the expectations you've set.
Restaurants can use simple pen-and-paper systems for restaurant waitlist management. However, digital waitlist systems are an increasingly popular alternative.
Tools like ResDiary's W8List enable restaurant workers to swiftly note down the contact details of a customer and provide an accurate estimated wait time. Then, when their table is ready, they will receive an SMS message letting them know they can return.
Not being able to get a seat at your favourite restaurant can be disappointing. Poor waitlist management can lead to an even more damaging negative association. This can reduce a customer’s desire to ever return to your venue.
A great restaurant waitlist management system enables you to set and meet expectations effectively. This means more customers are served, boosting your restaurant's revenue.
With the impacts of inflation on restaurants continuing to bite in Australia and New Zealand, these profits can be crucial to your venue’s success.
Best of all, your highly satisfied customers are more likely to return to your venue and spend more money next time.
5 benefits of digital waitlist management systems
Considering the importance of waitlist management in restaurants, your business must use the best available system. Here are the major reasons why a digital restaurant waitlist app is the right choice for you.
1. Remove The Guesswork
On a hectic night in a restaurant, asking an employee to accurately guess how long it will take for a table to become free can be an impossible task. Digital waitlist systems can integrate with table management systems to deliver a far more accurate estimate of how long it will take for a customer to be seated.
For example, W8List works with ResDiary's restaurant reservation system to analyse booking data. It then provides an estimated waiting time for customers. This results in a number you and your customers can rely on.
Waitlist management is all about setting and meeting expectations. By giving customers an accurate idea of when a table will be available for them, they can plan effectively for the rest of their evening.
This might mean going to a nearby pub for a drink while they wait or heading to a designated waiting area in your venue, like the bar.
When customers can plan their outing around an accurate waiting time, they will be far less frustrated by not having a table immediately available.
2. High Efficiency
Using a pen-and-paper waitlist is a manual process that can be prone to user error. Digital waitlist management systems can be swiftly accessed via a tablet or another device and are generally easier to operate.
Some restaurant waitlist apps, such as W8List, also have automated messaging systems built-in. Customers can receive a text letting them know a table is ready without any extra work from restaurant staff.
Efficiency is key to a great waitlist management system since they are only used during your business' busiest times. With staff shortages still commonplace in Australia and New Zealand, this increased efficiency can have a major impact.
In addition, Australia and New Zealand are highly technology-literate markets. Just as customers expect to make restaurant bookings at the touch of a button, they expect venues to make use of the latest innovations to deliver better service.
A great digital waitlist system like W8List can be used to quickly note down a customer's information, provide an estimated waiting time and notify customers when a table is available.
The feature has helped out venues like the Boat Shed Cafe. This New Zealand venue found the tool “has [also] been beneficial in times of high foot traffic … where people have not made a reservation.”
3. Real-time Updates
Waitlist management almost always requires involvement from multiple waitstaff. When using a digital waitlist management system, all your staff members can access a single source of truth.
All the key information is quickly displayed to the user. They can swiftly access the queue list and even see how long customers have been waiting.
Tools like W8List even send alerts when new bookings are about to be made in ResDiary that conflict with the waitlist. It's an all-encompassing system that keeps your restaurant on the same page.
Compare this to a pen-and-paper system. Multiple staff members referring back to the same sheet of paper can lead to confusion, without benefits such as a running clock or notes on waitlist entries.
Unlike a digital system, a sheet of paper can’t be viewed by 2 people in different parts of the restaurant. That’s why an integrated digital waitlist system is the perfect solution for a modern hospitality business.
4. Data Collection
Taking down customer information is important for letting them know a table is ready. This information can also be added to your database to boost your marketing goals.
Collecting data in this way also helps to make walkaways a less negative outcome. Imagine a situation in which a customer was excited to try out your venue.
Thanks to your digital waitlist, you were quickly able to tell them the wait for a table would be 30 minutes. This was too long for them to wait.
However, you were able to take down their email and add it to your marketing list. You can now use this as an opportunity to send them enticing offers and deals, encouraging them to return to your venue.
5. Better Customer Experiences
All of these benefits add up to a single result of all-around superior experiences for your customers. Your business works so hard to deliver exceptional food and service to your customers. However, without the benefit of a digital waitlist system, a given diner might never get to experience it.
A flawed pen-and-paper system can lead to all kinds of mistakes which frustrate customers. A streamlined digital system that goes as far as automatically alerting customers when their table is ready is sure to delight.
Remember that unhappy customers are more likely to share their experiences than happy ones. Your customers deserve great service across the board. A digital waitlist management system is a critical part of their experience.
arketing can be a challenge when the venue doesn’t have something to tell diners. Even if it’s something relatively small, these adjustments and subsequent announcements can help to invigorate the venue, and keep it feeling fresh and exciting.
It might be a particular promotion (live music, cheese and wine, pizza night etc), discount (i.e. happy hour), changing layout (moving tables around, new plants or a fresh paint job), blog with stories about customers or staff, a meet-the-community night, the introduction of vouchers, new dish/es, a special menu or something entirely different. Having something to promote – and communicating this promotion effectively – may prove to be key to drawing new and returning diners.
Tips for using a waitlist management system
Here are a few tips for making the most out of your restaurant queue management system.
Have a designated waiting area
Spending customers out of your venue to wait can lead to disappointment and frustration. Having a waiting area within your restaurant can therefore be a valuable addition.
Encouraging customers to wait at a location within your venue, such as a bar, reduces the chances they will change their minds and decide to leave their place on the waitlist.
It's also a superior option for your customer service. Telling customers they can wait within your restaurant is vastly preferable to simply asking them to leave.
Tools like W8List also allow you to add notes to a customer's place in the digital queue. Simply typing in "having a drink at the bar" allows your staff to easily collect these customers when their table is ready.
Communication is key
As is the case with all elements of customer service, your staff need to be capable of communicating the appropriate information to your guests.
This includes how long they will have to wait for a table, and the process for their being notified a table is ready.
Once your guests have a clear understanding of the waitlist process, they can properly plan their evening. This leads to happier customers and less stress for restaurant owners, managers and employees.
Communications sent through W8List can easily be personalised to your venue. This enables you to message your customers in exactly the way you want to, reinforcing your brand.
Record customer information
Restaurant waitlist software provides an excellent opportunity to collect data about your customers.
You should take and retain as much information from your customers as you can. For instance, collect both your customer's phone numbers and email addresses where possible. (Remember that you must have consent from your customers to store this information.)
Once you have this information available to you, it can be used to boost your marketing efforts. Just because a customer can't be seated on a given evening doesn't mean they won't want to return to your venue.
With phone numbers and email addresses, you have the tools you need to get in touch with your customers in future and entice them to return.
A major advantage of making a digital transition in your restaurant is advanced reporting functionality. This goes for digital waitlist systems, too.
Digital waitlist applications like W8List track information about which customers returned to claim their table and which did not. Analysing this information in a pre-built report can highlight flaws in your waitlist management process.
If you notice high levels of walkaways, you can ask yourself why this may be occurring. You can compare walkaways with their wait time and discover how long customers are generally willing to wait.
To achieve this same result with a pen-and-paper system, you would need to manually enter details about which customers returned into your computer. Who has time for that while running a busy restaurant?
How to improve restaurant table turnover
You can compound the positive impact of your waitlist management system by reducing restaurant wait times as a whole. The sooner you can have customers seated and served, the sooner you can turn the table over.
For more information, check out our complete guide to improving yield management in restaurants.
- Leverage technology: Automation technology in restaurants is constantly evolving. Today, you can take advantage of online table ordering, kitchen display systems and even robot waiters to make your service more efficient.
- Prioritise staff training: Training your team is an excellent way to improve restaurant waiting times. Train your staff in areas like communication and teamwork to help your restaurant run more smoothly. A bonus effect of staff training is improved retention, as staff feel like they are being invested in and allowed to grow in your business.
- Scrutinise your menu: If wait times are a persistent issue in your restaurant, take a look at your menu. Identify dishes that are taking too long to exit the kitchen. Examine how they can be altered, or how the cooking process can be even more streamlined.
Create better customer experiences with W8List™
W8List is the system you need for smoother restaurant management and customer experiences. A seamless integration with the ResDiary table management system, it provides accurate estimations of waiting times and automatic SMS messaging.
It also collects customer data, allowing you to follow up with any customers you need to turn away. This boosts your marketing initiatives, allowing you to bulk out your email list with interested customers.
Make life simpler for you and your diners. Find out more about W8List and discover the easy solution to your restaurant waitlist management needs.
To see W8List in action Book a Free ResDiary Demo today.
Disclaimer: This guide is general in nature and does not take into account your individual circumstances. Before acting on any information, you should consider whether this is right for your business.