Chickie's and Pete's, which operates 10 locations in the Philadelphia market and also has branded locations in stadiums and other arenas, is a popular spot—it was recently named America’s #1 sports bar by ESPN. On weekends in particular, wait lines can extend beyond two hours, requiring the host to sift through lists that can run from eight to 10 pages. Looking to remove the pain factor from the seating process, casuals like Chickie’s and Pete’s are turning to restaurant seating apps, such as NoWait, NoshList or Table’s Ready, which are designed to optimize table turnover while releasing guests from tiresome wait lines.
NoWait, which hired new CEO Ware Sykes in January, was launched in 2010, and reports it has since seated 7.9 million patrons. Cloud-based, so it can operate from anywhere in the restaurant, NoWait is looking to become the Open Table standard for fast-causal/casual operations, where wait lines can be brutal.
Like NoshList and Table’s Ready, NoWait’s basic process is simple: When a diner enters the restaurant, the host inputs the customer’s name and cell number into an iPad, running the host app. Seconds later, guests receive a message indicating the wait time until their table is available.
NoWait lets guest with a smartphone receive both a text and a link to “What's My Place,” which relays the estimated wait time as well as a diner’s position in line. “Guests are able to walk around our locations, get a drink at the bar, and in some instances go back to playing casino games,” notes Joe Carpinella, vice president—operations, Chickie’s and Pete’s.
When the table is ready, a text is immediately sent to return to the restaurant to be seated without delay.
Managing the guest
For Chickie’s and Pete’s, using a restaurant seating app has streamlined the process of keeping waiting lists organized, helping staff to better manage long wait times and guests’ expectations. “As crazy as it sounds, our young staff is much faster inputting information on a mobile device like an iPad or iPod than they are with handwriting information,” says Carpinella. “They have grown up with these devices in their hands and feel much more comfortable relying on technology to help them manage our guests.”
The text message feature has also helped drive bar revenue at the restaurants. Guests are no longer hovering around the front desk, in dire fear that they won’t hear their name being called. “Now, guests are very eager to go to the bar and relax before their table is ready,” says Carpinella.
Freed up from list management, staff is able to welcome and address guests at the front door, while keeping some traffic away from the front desk area. “The front desk area is more open and less crowded, allowing the front desk team more time to greet the incoming guests in a friendly, non-rushed manner, giving them the time they deserve. We are also able to help guests more efficiently with things like to-go orders, merchandise sales, gift card sales and general questions,” says Carpinella.
The text message feature is easily one of the biggest and best features the app provides, says Carpinella. “ No one leaves home without his mobile phone,” he notes. “I think more people forget their wallet or keys before they forget their phone. And when guests arrive in our fun environment, they always have their phone in hand whether from habit, waiting for a text from a friend who is joining them, or using it during their wait for a table. It gives us instant communication with the guest in our smallest (6,000 sq. ft.) to our largest (25,000 sq. ft.) locations. It’s much easier than trying to find a guest through a crowd or calling off names over a microphone.”
The table management template also cuts down on guests’ wait time. “Being able to see how many 2-tops, 4-tops, or how many overall tables are waiting at a quick glance helps us manage the dining room in a much more efficient way,” says Carpinella. “ All restaurant managers and staff play the ‘game of chess’ by moving tables together and planning where to seat their next big party. This lets us think ahead quickly on how to manage the dining room.”
The template has trimmed response time from "ready table" to "guest seated" by over 50%, reports Carpinella. “In most locations, it has allowed us to get an extra turn on our table during the course of the night,” he says. “Some of our locations seat from 200 to 500 people, so an extra turn gives us double those amount of people and greatly increases our revenue."