Maximize Your Restaurant’s Efficiency: 6 Proven Strategies to Reduce Wait Time

Many things seem to get in the way of you and your food when you are hungry and short on time. Wait times exist throughout the experience, whether you are grabbing a snack at a limited-service fast food restaurant or dining at a full-service sit-down establishment. For example, there is a delay between walking in the door and ordering, and another delay between ordering and waiting for your food to arrive.

Customers may be irritated by these inefficiencies throughout the customer journey; therefore, the question is whether they can be reduced or replaced with meaningful experiences. The following suggestions can help you either eliminate or transform these gaps of nothingness into positive connections to your brand.

The Customer Journey At A Full-Service Restaurant


Gap 1: Waiting for a table

Long wait times for tables can turn customers away or make them uncomfortable. Some may even argue that restaurants make you wait for a table unnecessarily in order to create the illusion of exclusivity and popularity. However, the number of employees or available seating frequently dictates the restaurant’s flow.

If waiting is unavoidable, try to make the experience more enjoyable. A comfortable waiting area with WiFi/entertainment and complimentary appetisers or drinks can help make the wait more enjoyable. Another strategy is to inform customers of the estimated wait time in order to give them a sense of control and reduce their uncertainty. 

The pandemic has accelerated the shift to digital booking services such as OpenTable, making the restaurant experience more enjoyable by removing the frustration of waiting.

Gap 2: Waiting to order

While it is appropriate to allow customers to peruse the menu and choose their order, it is not ideal if they feel ignored or that the wait staff is too busy to attend to them. Some restaurants address this issue by having customers press bells or buzzers to alert wait staff that they are ready to order. Another option is to allow customers to order at the table using tablets. Having all staff trained in customer service and taking drink orders first can also contribute to a more seamless experience.

Gap 3: Waiting for order arrival

Allowing some time between ordering and receiving food is acceptable and creates anticipation. After all, customers preferred a slower restaurant experience over a fast-food one. Too much time, on the other hand, will irritate hungry customers. While cooking time is often unavoidable, this gap can be bridged by providing appetisers and options for entertainment at the table, as well as a pleasant restaurant atmosphere and decor to enjoy.

Gap 4: Waiting for the check

In North America, it is customary to pay for a full-service meal at the conclusion of an experience. Customers are in a different mindset after they have eaten, and they may be more impatient to leave after their needs have been met. Attempting to wave down a busy employee for the check or waiting to use a card machine can result in a negative final experience for customers. However, if staff is too quick with this transaction, it can create the equally negative impression that customers are being rushed out.

As a result, the appropriate time between asking for the check and delivering it can be ambiguous. However, it is never a good idea to keep a customer waiting, especially if they have requested the check. Perk Hero and qkr! are two apps that are attempting to solve this awkward situation by allowing customers to pay and leave on their own time. While some restaurants solve this ambiguity by providing cashiers, it is the customer’s responsibility to know when to cash out.

Limited-service restaurant

Gap 1: Waiting to order

There are frequently line-ups before ordering in a limited-service restaurant where customers order at a counter (or digital kiosk). Even if all bottlenecks have been identified and strategies to reduce them implemented (for example, using express lines or enabling faster mobile payment processes), they may still exist during peak periods. Reduced “perceived wait time” is one way to mitigate the negative impact of this process gap.

The perceived wait time is not any shorter in reality, but it appears that way because it is designed to be more entertaining and enjoyable. Digital signage, for example, is one way to keep customers entertained and distracted while they wait in line. Another option is to pre-order through a mobile app, such as the Starbucks Mobile Order & Pay app, to avoid lines entirely.

Gap 2: Waiting for order pick-up/arrival

Following the placement of an order, there is frequently an awkward period of time during which customers are unsure of where to stand, where to look, and how long they will have to wait. The most recent McDonald’s design addresses this issue in part by using digital screens that display your order number once it is ready. Other restaurants take this solution a step further by providing customers with devices that buzz when their order is ready, allowing them to sit back and relax while they wait.

Inconvenient wait times in the customer journey can be avoided or reframed as meaningful brand interactions if these strategies are implemented. As in other industries, digital technology is enabling processes that result in more seamless and convenient experiences. Traditional brand experience strategies, on the other hand, can go a long way towards creating a more positive customer journey.