All You Need To Know About Restaurant Pagers (And Why They Suck)

Posted by

Staff Writer


December 12, 2023

You’ve been there, navigating the Friday night frenzy, trying to keep your cool when the front desk becomes a jigsaw puzzle of guests, and the decibel levels rival a rock concert.

Sometimes it's tough, but hey, you’re a people person, and you love it.

What you don’t love is your front-of-house trying to manage long queues of 60+ minutes during peak service hours.

Or that hostesses are handing out their personal numbers to track the queue of walk-ins…

One thing’s clear — a pen and paper isn’t gonna cut it anymore.

So, is it time to upgrade to a restaurant beeper system? We’ve heard from dozens of restaurant managers and their wait staff to find out. And the answer is… probably not.

Here’s why.👇

What are restaurant pagers and buzzers?

A restaurant beeper (also known as a pager) is a small device that alerts waiting customers via sound, vibration, or flashing LED lights when their table is ready.

An establishment needs a beeper system with multiple restaurant pagers and a master transmitter or base unit. Whenever the host presses a button or types a code on the transmitter, the pager associated with that button/code will buzz.

Initially, this wireless pager system had great success with fast food chains. But slowly, beeper pagers transitioned from fast food restaurants into various venues to help all restaurant staff with efficient communication, not just FOH (front of house). Sometimes, even the kitchen staff would use this notification system to alert waitstaff when food is ready to be served.

When looking at pagers, consider both design and practicality.

example of a buzzing restaurant pager

One restaurant that purchased a set of sleek, beautifully designed Retekess T coaster pagers had the unpleasant surprise of discovering they were “Oreo-sized chips” and “there is no holster to stack them. We spent more time trying to stack the disks to charge and picking up the discs once the tower fell than we did utilizing them.”

How does a restaurant pager work?

A restaurant beeper or pager is part of a wireless system that works on specific radio frequencies and has a few dependencies:

  1. A master transmitter that sends the signal.
  2. The actual beepers that catch the signal and alert customers.
  3. Someone to check all pagers are charged and in good working order.
  4. Someone to regularly clean and sanitize the pagers between each customer.

How far do restaurant beepers work?

Depending on the paging system model, a restaurant beeper can have a signal range between 150 feet and two miles. The typical reach of restaurant buzzers is around half a mile.

This signal should penetrate some walls or obstacles and cover the waiting area and the immediate external vicinity. However, certain factors weaken the pagers’ signal even in smaller restaurants:

  • Other gadgets that use radio frequency or too much electronic activity in proximity.
  • Things like thick walls, furniture, or construction metal and concrete.
  • Using more pagers than the paging system can handle.
  • Low pager battery.

How much does a pager system cost?

The cost of a pager system can vary based on brand, range, features, and the number of guest pagers you need. Business owners can expect to spend $300+ for a basic low-price beeper system.

Initial system cost:

  • $200 - $500 for basic pager systems for small venues.
  • $1,000 - $5,000 for an advanced restaurant paging system with long range and extra features.

Pager/buzzer cost:

  • $10 - $60 or more per pager.
  • $200 - $300 for bulk sets with 20 pagers.
  • $1000+ for mid-range and premium kits, typically with less than 20 pagers.

What are the main disadvantages of a beeper system?

The main disadvantages are transmitter range, beeper replacement costs, customer error, staff error, technical issues, and potential low customer satisfaction.

Here’s the dream guest experience that restaurant beeper systems are trying to sell to restaurant owners and managers👇

Guests arrive, they're greeted warmly and handed a small, sleek device that will buzz and light up when their table is ready.

No more crowded entrance. No more people anxiously hovering over the host, asking for the umpteenth time if their table is ready.

Instead, they relax and step outside for a breath of fresh air, confident they won't be skipped over or forgotten…

…In reality, your unknowing customer just stepped outside the signal range, and their buzzer isn’t going to ring 😢.

Now you’ve got an angry group of folks who’re tired of waiting, insisting they haven’t been called and demanding a table instantly. Not a great customer service moment. And you have to smile, apologize, and hustle like crazy to fix the problem. After all, the customer is always right … right?

In this scenario, your beeper didn’t work because of its transmitter range.

But aside from this issue, there are a few more buzzer problems we can easily call “customer experience” flaws:

  • Guests mistakenly leave with the beepers, so you must fork over replacement costs.
  • Guests drop or break the beepers, so again, you pay for the frequent wear and tear.
  • Guests ignore or don’t hear the beeper pager in loud environments, so you’re spending more time with empty tables and upset customers.

Restaurant beepers are still in use, but with staff shortages, many owners and managers are switching to a digital waitlist app that uses text messaging to communicate with guests.

Waitlist apps only require a single tablet, phone, or any device with internet access to work.

TablesReady, for example, sends people a text message on their phones when their table is ready. It’s super simple to use, and customers appreciate that they don’t have to handle bulky pagers or stay close to your restaurant while waiting.


Why hosts and hostesses prefer digital apps to buzzers

These days, sending and receiving text messages is part of our lives. Especially for most restaurant industry workers who are high school students or college kids — whipping out a phone and typing a phone number is as easy as breathing.

Hosts, hostesses, and wait staff find sending a text message way more convenient compared to writing on scraps of paper, shouting out names, or worrying about a missing food buzzer or a missing customer who didn’t get the buzz.

During those peak hours when they’re spinning busy, nothing beats the convenience of putting everything in one area and having simple texts go out to customers with just a button tap.

And restaurant buzzer apps don’t have to be difficult to learn, either. In fact, they should be as intuitive as possible for you and your guests. Check out this video walkthrough for TablesReady, a restaurant waitlist app that can streamline your next service, helping with faster table turns and a better customer experience:

Restaurant pagers vs waitlist apps

Modern times require modern solutions like a waitlist management app that sends SMS notifications directly to your customers’ phones. It's the next-level waitlist solution for any busy restaurant, especially with the current labor costs and worker shortage.

table comparing physical restaurant pagers vs text message-based waitlist apps

Handle your waitlist the way your staff and customers actually need

Restaurant beepers and buzzers aren’t necessarily bad. It’s just that they don’t work how you need them to and don't always provide the best customer experience. You’re better off spending your time, money, and energy with other solutions.

Create a free account with TablesReady, the simplest waitlist app on the market. You need no credit card or contract; you can send up to 150 messages a month for free, and you’ll see how well it works for you today.

Are buzzers & notepads costing you time, money, and sanity?

Take your waitlist from chaotic to convenient in 5 minutes.

  • ✓ 14-day free trial
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