A follow up to our last post on the ethics of jumping the queue when the queue is manged via a deli-style-take-a-number system. The problem there was that the ticket determining a customer’s position in the queue is not tied to a specific customer. If the ticket were only for a specific customer, then a customer abandoning the queue could not gift jumping the queue to one specific person (nor could she sell the ticket). Fast Company reports that there are firms selling solutions that tie a queue position to a particular person and they rely on something pretty much all of us have in our pockets, cell phones (So Long, Pagers: How WaitAway And Other Wait Apps Are Changing Restaurants, DMVs And More, Sept 2012).
alled WaitAway, it allows hostesses to input a customer’s name and number into an iPad or laptop, which then sends a text when a table is ready. Upon getting the message, the prospective diner can return to the restaurant or respond that she changed her mind. It was just what Chernow needed. He signed up, and within a month, walkaways were down by 30%.
WaitAway wasn’t the first wait app to hit the market; it wasn’t even the first Chernow looked into. More than a dozen exist, underscoring the extent to which a solid wait strategy is critical to building repeat business. “Americans equate waiting to wasting time,” says Richard Larson, an MIT professor whose study of waiting earned him the moniker Dr. Queue. Taking reservations is an ages-old wait-management strategy, and vibrating pagers became so popular after debuting in the 1990s that in 2005, restaurant point-of-sale system provider Micros acquired JTech, the largest producer of them, for an undisclosed sum. But app-based systems are arguably the best solution yet, because of their ability to keep businesses informed and in control while making the people waiting for service not feel like they’re actually waiting.
Having a list is a luxury for any restaurant, but as Chernow will attest, it’s not always a good thing. Mismanage waits and the crowd will disperse for keeps. Reservation policies are on the wane, because unless a restaurant takes a credit-card down payment, it can lose money if patrons flake. Pager systems help with organization but are pricey–units cost about $50 each, and people often leave with them–and have limited range.
And we once again see that no reporter can write an article on queuing and waits without checking in with Dick Larson.
Moving people out of a crowded waiting room into a virtual queue is appealing to both the firm and customers. The restaurant avoids greeting newly arriving customers with the sight of multiple bored, would-be diners milling around. Customers get to use their time more productively assuming there is somewhere nearby to browse or shop.
There are two things that make these texting based systems really attractive. First, you push the technology cost onto the customer. No one walks off with a $50 pager anymore since they are just using their phone. Second, assuming that customers are willing to part with their cell phone number, the firm can view patronage over time. That could possibly allow the firm to “take care of regulars” when it comes time to deciding who should get the two top that just opened up.