Photo courtesy of Duffy’s Sports Grill.
During major sporting events, waits at Duffy’s Sports Grill can top 30 minutes.

Managing the Wait Time

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Turn the negative wait into a positive, lucrative experience.
By Amanda Baltazar November 2012 Marketing & Promotions

Misty Young, owner of Squeeze In, South Reno, Nevada, doesn’t believe she’s in the food business.

“We’re in the mini-vacation business,” she says. “Guests’ experiences begin as soon as their tires hit the driveway, and I want every experience to be good from start to finish.”

The problem is that being mostly a breakfast and lunch chain, the three Squeeze In restaurants in California and Nevada are incredibly busy in the mornings, especially on the weekends. There’s typically a 15- to 60-minute wait, but as Young points out, that wait is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s another chance for the restaurant to keep its customers happy and, maybe at the same time, make a little money.

“You’ve got to take care of those people who are waiting. They want to spend money and I want them to spend money while they’re waiting,” Young explains.

So, killing two birds with one stone, Young and her staff offer the waiting customers drinks, which can be anything from a cup of coffee to a Mimosa. Typically on a party of four, she might make $20 while they are waiting.

Squeeze In even has a special deal on its Bloody Marys and Mimosas. Its menu states ‘Every Bubbly Needs a Buddy!’ and ‘Every Bloody Needs a Buddy!’ offering the drinks in pairs, $8.99 for two Mimosas and $11.49 for two Bloody Marys.

“So, we’ve hooked them up with a deal and we’ve served them a special beverage while waiting,” says Young. “The guest wins on two fronts.”

The wow factor

Of course, no system is perfect. “Once in a while, we don’t capture the beverages on the ticket, but that is not a deal-breaker for us,” she adds. “Most folks are honest, and, frankly, if we lose a cup of coffee or two, even a Bloody Mary, it’s not going to put us out of business. The wow factor is worth it.”

And that wow factor applies to the kids as well. The Squeeze In offers a free order of toast “to help with children’s hungry tummies.”

Adam Robin, the managing partner of The Office in Delray Beach, Florida, and at two Vic & Angelo’s restaurants in Delray Beach and Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, says that during busy times all three restaurants invite guests to sit at the bar or outdoors and enjoy a cocktail or two, sometimes at discounted Happy Hour prices.

The restaurants may also leverage busier hours to test drink specials. These are offered at a discount to encourage more people to try them and share their opinions.

Wait times are the perfect opportunity to introduce guests to new cocktails that they might enjoy again on a future visit, Robin says. “Our hostess, bartender, or manager has a captive audience, so they will spend extra time with the guest to explain our concept, our food, our drinks, and our atmosphere, because we believe that an informed customer is our restaurant group’s best friend.”

False waits

In fact, there are times, Robin says, when he creates a false wait and customers will be told their table’s not ready yet. “Even if we have a table available, it doesn’t mean my kitchen or my servers are available. Customers might wait 10 minutes just so I can make sure they get the best possible service and to make sure we have good flow.

“We always capitalize on a wait time, so we bring people to the bar to give them time to look at the menu, to get them to have a drink, have an appetizer, maybe bring some friends,” continues Robin. “This way, they tend to have an extra drink or an alcoholic drink that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

And customers are more likely to have a cocktail at the bar than at their dinner table, Robin adds, “Because the bar is a different atmosphere.”

Robin’s three restaurants also offer first-come, first-served, high-top bar tables and, when guests choose to sit there, it effectively means an extra table in the restaurant. The Office offers half-price small plates in the bar during happy hour, which Robin notes is a benefit since “it gives people a reason to come back, because they might want more of something they’ve enjoyed as a small plate.”

Duffy’s Sports Grill, a 24-location restaurant chain based in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, often has waits of up to half an hour during major sporting events, and it, uses the time to introduce customers to its food and drink.

“We try to send out appetizer finger food on a platter. It’s a nice thing to do, and it is a nice way for us to introduce guests to some foods they might not have thought about,” says Jason Emmett, vice president of operations. “If the wait is long, the restaurant might send a server to take drink orders—and drink sales prior to dining seem to be additional sales.”

By offering these things to waiting guests, Emmett says that he’s not only keeping them happy during their wait, “but I’m boosting sales down the line and building goodwill.”

Eliminate the negative

“There’s always the potential to increase sales with customers who are waiting,” says Brandon O’Dell, owner, O’Dell Restaurant Consulting in Kansas City, Kansas. “I think it’s a great service to have a member of staff serve cocktails, or even soft drinks. It’s also a way to keep guests occupied so that the wait seems shorter.”

O’Dell points out that at least 80 percent of a restaurant’s revenue is made during peak periods. “It’s really important to maximize their revenue during those times,” he adds.

Traci Allen, owner, Traci Allen, Inc., Washington, D.C., says it’s a missed opportunity if restaurants don’t capitalize on wait times. But the wording that restaurant staff use is very important, she explains. “For example, I suggest they eliminate the word ‘wait’ completely; and simply say, ‘Mr. Thompson, it is going to be 15 to 20 minutes before your table is ready.’ ‘Wait’ is a negative word.”

She also suggests that bartenders or cocktail waitresses refrain from asking if waiting guests would like to see the bar menu. Instead, she says, “Assume the sale! Have the bartender or cocktail waitress bring over the bar menu. Again, you don’t mention anything about ‘enjoying a light bite while you wait.’”

By eliminating the negative, and accentuating the positive, restaurants can turn their guests’ waits into profitable times, while at the same time building goodwill and encouraging return visits.