As reservation platforms move to iPads and mobile devices, guest management systems are much in demand, with several—including NoWait, DineTime, and NoshList—aiming to become the OpenTable of the wait list space.

NoWait’s iPad-based wait list, which first hit the restaurant industry in 2011 as a basic replacement to the pen and paper, buzzer system, continues to expand its reach, both geographically and in services provided. A consumer-facing mobile app rolled out nationally in February, after a soft launch in Pittsburgh in September, and it lets diners place their names on waiting lists before setting foot in the restaurant.

The original app, a host management system, required diners to sign into the iPad-based system at the host station in the restaurant, which they can still do, and diners are free to roam nearby neighborhoods or malls as they wait for the text alert informing them their table is ready. Alternatively, with the new mobile app, diners can now use NoWait to view a list of restaurants and real-time wait times, and join wait lists remotely from their mobile devices. Customers need not show up to the restaurant until they receive an alert that their table is ready.

 “We are giving people back their time,” NoWait CEO Ware Sykes says.

Increasing Restaurant Efficiencies

NoWait, says Sykes, is much more than just a wait list platform—it also helps solve operational issues by managing customer flow and seating diners more efficiently. Restaurants using the app are retaining more guests, who may have normally decided to leave the restaurant rather than join a long wait list. Diners are also more likely to return on subsequent visits, knowing that they don’t have to ensure endless wait times to get seated.

Able to plan ahead, restaurateurs can better manage their dining room, seating guests at the right-sized table for their party. “We found that even on a 45-minute wait, restaurants are often only using 55 percent of their tables, because they don’t have the right sizes to accommodate the various parties,” Sykes notes.

Skyes says he has found that guests, pleased by the lack of wait, are ordering more food. “With restaurants that are using our system effectively, we are seeing a lift in sales of between 10-20 percent.”

NoWait is averaging seating more than 5 million diners monthly, up from 700,000 in 2013. To date, it has sat 50 million diners, and has “thousands” of restaurant locations on its roster, Skyes says. NoWait customers include major national chains such as Texas Roadhouse, First Watch, On The Border, and Chili's, as well independents, including Jose Garces' Village Whiskey, Marc Vetri's Pizzeria Vetri, and Hubert Keller's Burger Bar.

With a recent influx of $10 million from investment company Drive Capital, NoWait is looking to expand its network of restaurants and consumers, ramp up engineering to support its technology roadmap, and develop additional products and services. On the radar is adding technology to give restaurants more insight into their customer base, such as individual guest preferences.

How Restaurants Benefit From NoWait

Eataly Chicago implemented the host and table management app in January 2014, adding the consumer app in May. “With the volume we were doing at La Pizza & La Pasta, with over 1,300 covers on a busy day, it was really important for us to be able to manage the process,” explains Kevin Gil, the general manager for Eataly Chicago’s seven restaurants. “NoWait makes it easy for the host and for the guest as well.”

Eataly was already using an iPad system table management, and NoWait syncs up seamlessly with the system, Gil says. When a guest checks in at the front hostess desk, the information is immediately shared with the hosts handling the seating.

“It’s a significant improvement over our former system,” Gil notes. “It saves a lot of time and energy for hosts, as well as guests. It helps with lines at the host line, which no longer scare people off.”

It also makes for a less stressed customer. “There are so many different [retail] options at Eataly; instead of spending 15 minutes on line, waiting to speak to a hostess or for a table, guests can maximize their time, and have a better experience,” Gil says.

Coming into summer, when tourist season hits its stride, Gil expects both the host and the consumer app to be in full swing. “During the summer, when we get lots of large groups, the wait times really get pushed, especially at La Pizza & La Pasta,” Gil explains. “There are lots of kids, families are more anxious to sit, and are less patient. We are expecting the apps to allow these diners to get the full benefit of the Eataly experience.”

So if there is a 30-minute wait (for guests that don’t know about the consumer app), guests can use the wait time to saunter through the Eataly marketplace, maybe stop by Il Pesce for some oysters and clams and a glass of wine, and as they are finishing up their appetizers, receive a text that their table at La Pizza & La Pasta is ready. “It’s a seamless flow throughout the building, getting on the app,” Gil says.  For Eataly, it also keeps the revenue within the confines of the Eataly marketplace. “Keeping the money under the same roof—it makes me look good,” says Gil.

As more Eataly’s open nationwide, the plan is to include NoWait in the mix.

By Joann Whitcher

Casual Dining, Chain Restaurants, Industry News, Labor & Employees, Philanthropy, Technology, Chili's, Eataly, First Watch, On The Border