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The waiting game

Busy times are restaurants’ bread and butter. But a busy restaurant often means hungry guests are kept waiting. If operators manage wait times properly, though, they can create positive feelings in guests and boost business. Some skills to work on:

Create a false wait. Guests at Red Tapas Bar & Grill, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, will often be told their table is not ready, when in fact it is. This does a number of things, says Adam Robin, who consults with the restaurant. It means a crowd can be created at the bar, making the restaurant seem busier; and it can wow guests when their table is ready in five minutes when they’ve been quoted 15—“they think we’ve pulled out all the stops for them,” says Robin. Everyone wins, explains Robin: guests feel taken care of and there might be an extra bar sale.

Red Tapas also frequently asks waiting customers if they would like to sit at a high top table in the bar. “I employ this tactic often,” says Robin, “because often people will have a few drinks and appetizers and decide to stay at the high top, opening up a table in the dining room.”

Offer free appetizers. Some Hurricane Grill & Wings franchisees send out servings of the 32 flavors of wings. According to COO Mark Snyder, “sending out appetizers helps introduce our guests to all of our flavors, which makes them more likely to order them in the future.”

Provide menus. This tactic occupies waiting guests so it feels like time moves faster. They also feel they’re on their way to getting something to eat, adds Snyder. And, once they sit down, they have made their meal choices and move through the restaurant more rapidly. Hurricane Grill & Wings makes sure hosts and hostesses are fully trained on the menu to answer any questions from waiting guests.

Provide free coffee. First Watch, University Park, Florida, which has 106 restaurants in 15 states, puts out airpots of regular and decaf coffee. “We don’t see it as a way to make revenue but we want to make the customer comfortable and make that wait time seem shorter than it really is. And we think that has a halo effect on the entire experience with us,” says CMO Chris Tomasso.

Use positive language, says Traci Allen, CEO of Traci Allen, Inc., a brand development firm in Washington, D.C. “It’s vital to eliminate the word ‘wait,’” she says, “because that establishes bad perceptions from the start. Instead, say something like ‘Your table will be ready in 20 minutes.’ Positive service at the beginning really sets the tone because it’s hard to come back from that,” Allen explains.

Don’t ask waiting guests if they would like a menu, but assume they do, Allen adds. Provide them with a bar menu and make sure your servers know which appetizers are fastest to prepare.

Keep the kids happy. Some Hurricane Grill & Wings franchisees have a small game room; First Watch restaurants often leave out oversized chalk so kids can draw on the sidewalk in front of the restaurants; and the four Squeeze In restaurants in California and Nevada bring out free snacks like toast or a cup of fruit to waiting children.

Provide simple distractions. First Watch restaurants have free newspapers and free WiFi.

Don’t forget technology. Apps such as NoWait, WaitAway and NoshList, will automatically send texts to waiting guests, meaning they don’t have to wait within your restaurant.

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