How To Manage A Restaurant Waitlist Without The Chaos

Posted by

Staff Writer


December 13, 2023

Your restaurant waitlist is absolutely crucial to a drama-free service when things get busy.

And the harsh truth is…

Once the crowds hit your front door, your waitlist system either works like a charm or gets more and more manic. Choose the wrong system, and you throw your service into non-stop chaos.

This blog post will show you how you and your staff can manage any length of waitlist without missing a beat. You’ll learn how to:

  1. Replace your paper waitlist with technology that makes walk-ins and reservation management super easy for your staff.
  2. Keep the customers flowing without no-shows, delays, or human errors.
  3. Boost restaurant revenue by reducing the waiting time between sittings.

How waitlist management increases restaurant revenue

Waitlist management isn’t just about making life easier for your staff. It also contributes to your gross revenue.

A large-scale study conducted on restaurant customers showed that:

  • Simply reducing wait time could bring restaurant owners a 15% monthly revenue increase.
  • The longer your average wait times, the less time customers spend at the table, and the longer it takes them to return.

Here’s how managing waiting customers the smart way improves your restaurant flow and bottom line:

👉 Optimized table turnover: The clock starts ticking when a table is cleared. Each minute spent waiting for the next guest nibbles away at potential earnings. With efficient waitlist management, you can skip the 5-15 minutes typically lost in locating guests. And if you turn tables an additional 1-3 times per service, you’ll be making more money even with a limited serving staff.

👉 Big group prioritization: Larger parties often mean larger checks. Effective waitlist management systems help you prioritize big groups, ensuring they're seated and served swiftly and without hassle. You’re giving them a better experience, making them more likely to return, and capitalizing on the higher revenue such groups bring.

👉 Managing no-shows: No-shows are inevitable in the restaurant industry, but they don’t have to drill a hole in your pocket. A sound waitlist system can reduce wait times at restaurants by tracking who's next and who hasn’t shown up, enabling quick action. Rather than waiting 10 minutes before moving on to the next customer, your staff will be instantly alerted to no-shows. Table turnover will work faster, and you’ll have fewer unused time slots.

The best way to manage your restaurant waitlist

The best way to manage your waitlist is to use an app like TablesReady to streamline the customer flow:

  1. Every time a group walks in, your host types their name, phone number, and party size using a tablet, a desktop, or even their smartphone. TablesReady sends guests an automated message confirming they’re on the waitlist, ensuring excellent first impressions.
  2. While they wait, the app can display accurate wait times and send your restaurant guests different text notifications, including next-in-line and default SMS replies, to keep them informed and engaged.
  3. TablesReady keeps track of your online queue on a mobile device, showing you the number of tables, free and occupied, and the number of waiting guests. When you've cleared a table, you tap a button, and the next customer on your waiting list gets a text saying their table is ready.

Want to see exactly how it works? Try out this free demo that gets you on the “Walter’s Bistro” waitlist.

TablesReady is an excellent alternative to buzzers and scraps of paper. Using it means your restaurant hosts will never again have to shout out names or give out personal numbers to communicate with waiting guests, and they can focus on excellent customer service.

TablesReady is 100% free to start. You can send up to 150 text messages a month free of charge.  No credit card is required.


Tried & tested tips on how to manage your restaurant waitlist

1. Use a digital restaurant wait list system instead of paper

A digital or virtual waitlist solution might feel slightly more risky than pen and paper, but it’s lightyears faster, more reliable, and suitable for the digital age. In restaurants where workers are predominantly Gen Z or staff shortages are a problem, a digital solution helps speed up service and protects you against simple mistakes.

Not sure which waitlist software works for your restaurant's needs? Check out this comparison between the best waitlist solutions.

2. Make your restaurant wait times clear to customers

This study shows customers are sensitive to fair treatment while waiting for a table. Because no manager wants to deal with someone shouting, “The customer is always right!!” on a busy Saturday night!

Update customers with notifications and communicate wait times accurately, and your guests will:

  • Appreciate your 5-star service quality.
  • Perceive you as more professional.
  • Trust you, and stop checking in with your staff too often.

3. Respond faster with automated notifications and saved replies

A fast text message to a customer's phone will keep them informed and reduce no-shows.

Automate SMS responses to waitlist guests

Set up customizable SMS notifications for waitlist confirmations, ready alerts, next-in-line notices, reservation reminders, and cancellations. And prepare saved replies for common inquiries and situations.

This automation is an effective way to speed up response times, ensure consistent communication, and improve the customer experience.

4. Enable guests reply to your messages if necessary

When your restaurant text messaging system supports customer messages, you can handle any situation easier and faster.

Your guests can ask questions, inform about delays, or make special requests. Plus your staff will have the information in advance so they can respond professionally and help your guests feel good about their choice of restaurant.

5. Let people join your waitlist or check in by themselves

Customers appreciate having control over their experience, and when they get to join your restaurant's digital queue by themselves, they feel more in control.  

Restaurants with online waitlists allow potential customers to sign up with their contact information or check in on their own without lining up or interacting with staff during busy times. You can use SMS sign-up or contactless check-in via QR codes.

Not only will you limit guest interactions and free the FOH staff from making phone calls, but you will also provide a modern guest experience.

6. Use a waitlist app with seasonal flexibility

A waitlist app that adapts to your business cycles will make you more effective and give you a better return on investment.

Choose a service that lets you pause your account during slower times without paying and preserve your settings and data. That way, when you reactivate your account in peak season, you don’t have to start from scratch.

7. Track parties as you’re serving them

Waitlist management software with table management and restaurant floor plans is usually complex to set up and use. The best alternative feature in simpler waitlist apps is to track parties in real-time by assigning them to a certain resource — table number, room, employee, lane, etc.

Here’s an example of how you can track parties in an online waitlist app.

Track waitlist customers in real time using a waitlist app

When you seat guests, you select a resource in the app. From there, you’ll see at a glance which tables are occupied and who’s responsible for their smooth service.

Smart waitlist management for restaurants can also save your sanity

Waitlist management should give your customers the best experience. You’re not just looking to stop them from canceling but also trying to gain:

  • Less stress for staff and managers: With the right waitlist tools, front staff won’t juggle paper lists. They can do more important work, so things run smoother during peak hours.
  • Happier customers: People can see how long until they eat right on their phones, so they don't have to wait at the door. They’ll enjoy the experience more.
  • Better decisions: The system keeps track of when it’s busy and what customers like, which helps you make better choices about staff and menu.

Your tables are ready for a change. Are you?

Want a restaurant waitlist management solution you can easily access from any tablet, computer, or smartphone without installing anything?

The TablesReady app is as simple as using your phone:

  1. You tap one button to add a customer to the waitlist.
  2. Type customer details in the available fields — name, party size, phone number, special requests/notes.
  3. Once their table is ready, send them a confirmation SMS with one click in the app.
  4. When they arrive, the front staff greets them, or guests can check in using a QR code or SMS sign-up.

Create a free account with TablesReady, the no-downloads, no-hassle digital waitlist solution. It’s free to start, and you need no credit card.

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

Take your waitlist from chaotic to convenient in 5 minutes.

  • ✓ 14-day free trial
  • ✓ Cancel anytime
  • ✓ No credit card required