Mobile app manages restaurant wait lists

NoWait's service helps small establishments alert waiting patrons through text messages to their mobile phone, foregoing investments in pricey pager systems.

If you are the sort of person who visits restaurants spontaneously rather than making a reservation, you've been on numerous wait lists. And you've probably been handed one of those ridiculously huge pagers that buzzes when your table is ready.

A new application from NoWait is changing the ingredients for more efficient table wait-list management at small restaurants. The service, which is offered through a monthly subscription, replaces bulky, proprietary alert system with one that runs on Apple iOS tablets and smartphones. (The management interface is shown in the photo below.)


The system, which integrates with separate shift-planning and POS applications and services from other vendors, lets a greeter or host keep track of who is waiting on a tablet or smartphone. (Up to three people in a restaurant can update NoWait simultaneously.)

When a table is ready, an alert is sent to waiting parties via a text message to their personal mobile phone or smartphone.

The service is free for restaurants that are managing fewer than 200 parties per month on their wait lists. After that, it starts at $59 per month to support up to 500 waiting parties per month.

NoWait isn't just a way to help make wait-list management more efficient: it also lets managers collect names that can be used later for marketing campaigns, said Robb Myer, CEO and founder of the Pittsburgh-based company, which has so far raised $2 million in venture capital to build out its idea.

"If you use a buzzer, you just write things down," he said. "NoWait gives you a name, phone number. You can track interactions, including how long they have been waiting, and how long it takes for them to get back when you alert them."

From the patron's point of view, NoWait is useful because they can actually leave the establishment to run nearby errands or just to get out of the crowd without the fear of being out of the pager range, he said.

So far, more than 1,200 locations are using NoWait across the United States, including the Green Pig Bistro, located just outside Arlington, Va.

The application has reduced the Green Pig's quoted wait times from 60 minutes down to 30 to 45 minutes. Green Pig can only seat about 120 people at once, a portion of those seats are reserved for parties of six or more people.

"NoWait gives us the flexibility to take reservations and create a waiting list without the encumbering costs of using a reservation system like Open Table," said Tom Voskuil, the Green Pig's restaurant director. "Plus, the monthly fee is more easily absorbed."

He opted to use the application after it seeing it in action at a busy establishment in Washington, D.C.

Since Green Pig is located near a number of retail stores, patrons appreciate the ability to shop while they are waiting instead of being forced to stand in a crowded lobby. "They can be anywhere within a five-minute walk of the restaurant," Voskuil said.