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How to Set Up a Waitlist App for Your Restaurant

Virtually every restaurant needs to have reliable waitlisting to manage walk-ins. Find out how your restaurant can successfully set up a digital waitlist app.

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Waitwhile

Wed Aug 31 2022 • 6 min read

How to Set Up a Waitlist App for Your Restaurant

If you manage a popular restaurant, chances are you regularly have a full dining room and have to go on a wait. Whether you operate with reservations or only take walk-ins, effectively managing your waitlist can ensure your diners have a wonderful experience right from the start.

The most common method of managing a restaurant waitlist is with a printed waitlist. A host or manager will write down the guest’s name and party size and then quote a wait. This manual method of waitlist management is – well – manual.

It’s also inefficient, leading to crowded waiting areas, inaccurate wait time estimates, and frustrated guests. Plus, your bottom line is at stake: a recent Waitwhile consumer survey found that 70% of people are willing to wait only a maximum of 15 minutes in a physical line.

A waitlist app is a digital solution that allows restaurants to manage their walk-ins more effectively. Using a waitlist app for your restaurant means you can automate tedious tasks, keep your guests in the know throughout their wait with accurate wait time estimates, and solve overcrowding at the host stand or in your waiting area.

Keep reading to learn what features to look for in a restaurant waitlist app, what you’ll need to consider as you deploy a digital solution, and ideas to reduce wait times to increase sales and customer satisfaction.

The benefits of using a restaurant waitlist app

No matter the type of restaurant, diners are looking for a certain level of attention. Going out to eat should be a special experience, each and every time.

And that experience starts the moment the customer walks in the door. If they’re met with a crowded waiting area and a host struggling to manage a waitlist with pen and paper, you risk losing business and hurting your bottom line. At worst, the potential customer will just walk out the door and go somewhere else. At best, they’ll work to overlook the poor waiting experience, though it’s likely to remain a blemish on the entire experience and negatively impact customer reviews.

A restaurant waitlist app digitizes the waiting process, bringing efficiency to the entire process. Here’s what it can unlock for you:

  • Organized operations: A waitlist app will clearly show you everyone who is waiting, how long they’ve been waiting, and what their wait time is. Platforms like Waitwhile use machine learning technology to deliver the most accurate wait times possible, so your guests will know exactly how long it’ll take until their table is ready.  
  • Reduce overcrowding: Waitlist apps use virtual queues, meaning guests can wait anywhere and receive updates on their phones. This reduces overcrowding at the front of your restaurant by allowing your guests to go elsewhere (e.g., get a drink at your bar, wait in their car, or walk around) with the ease of mind that they’ll get a text as soon as their turn is up.
  • Streamlined communication: The best waitlist apps will allow you to message directly with guests on your waitlist. You’ll be able to send automated or custom messages via text message or email. If a guest has a question or an update to share with you, they’ll have direct access to you via the app.
  • Customer satisfaction: When customers have a satisfying experience at a restaurant, they're likely to come back. Using a waitlist app allows restaurants to ensure that their customers always have a convenient, positive experience. This leads to improved customer satisfaction, repeat business, and positive reviews.
  • Maximizing revenue: An excellent wait experience means that you’ll have fewer guests leaving during their wait, increasing your cover count. Plus, restaurant waitlist apps deliver accurate wait times, helping you maximize the number of people you serve a day.
  • Curbside pickup: A waitlist app not only helps you manage your walk-ins, but can also be used to coordinate curbside pickup. Want to learn more? Grab a copy of The Curbside Pickup Operations Handbook.

How to choose a waitlist app for restaurants

Restaurant waitlist apps like Waitwhile keep diners updated with AI-powered wait time estimates.


There are several waitlist app options on the market for your restaurant that all contain different features. To limit the friction related to integrating a new tech solution, you’ll want to make sure the platform you choose is the right fit for your operations.

Here are a few criteria to look for when choosing an app:

  • Easy-to-use/seamless interface: The most important factor is to make sure the waitlist app is easy for your customers and employees to use. The last thing you want is to onboard a complicated system, which will be frustrating for guests and staff alike. Importantly, make sure to choose a solution like Waitwhile that is cloud- or browser-based so that your guests don’t have to download an app to join your waitlist.
  • Compatibility with your devices: When choosing a waitlist app, it's important to ensure that it is compatible with the devices you'll be using. Some apps are only available for certain types of devices, so be sure the platform you choose will work with your existing hardware. Otherwise, you might have to purchase new tablets, etc., which can get costly.
  • Check for features: Consider the features that are important to you. Some apps offer more features than others, so make sure you choose one with everything you need. For example, your waitlist app should be able to accommodate the daily capacity of your restaurant and work efficiently over cellular data. The best apps will allow you to manage multiple locations and deliver AI-powered wait time estimates.

Deploying your restaurant’s waitlist app

After you’ve chosen the right waitlist app for your restaurant, you need to deploy it across your business in an effective and timely manner.

Here are a few steps to follow when rolling out a new restaurant waitlist app:

  1. Staff training: Since your staff will use the waitlist app on a day-to-day basis, they must be trained on the ins and outs of the app. Having a trained team of waitlist app experts will help make the process of deploying it in the restaurant seamless.
  2. Test it out: To ensure everything is working correctly before setting your app live with customers, testing in-house with staff is crucial. If there's anything that needs to be fixed or adjusted, it can be done before customers see it. You should also try out the app on different devices and troubleshoot any technical difficulties, including making sure it runs effectively on cellular data should your internet go down.
  3. Promote: Once your app is tested and your staff is trained, it’s time for it to go live. Advertise the new app with signs on the premises and include information on social media so your current and future customers can all know about your new convenient way of managing walk-ins.

    Some apps, like Waitwhile, allow you to let your guests join a waitlist before they’ve arrived. If you want to give your guests that option, add a link on your website or a button to your Google Maps listing. With Waitwhile, you can even geofence your waitlist, so guests will only be able to sign up if they are within a certain distance of your restaurant.

Ways to reduce wait times at your restaurant

As you know, long wait times can be a pain for both customers and staff. However, there are a few ways to reduce wait time friction, especially when using a waitlist app for your restaurant.

  • Regular and reliable wait time estimates: Having regular and reliable wait time estimates is a must. This will reduce overcrowding and keep guests from getting upset.
  • Lineless queuing: With a virtual restaurant waitlist app, you can give your guests a number of ways to join the waitlist. The simplest is to visit the host stand and have a staff member add them to the queue. You can also offer more self-serve options, including texting to join the waitlist, accessing the waitlist through your website or Google Maps listing, or you can set up self check-in kiosks at your entrance.
  • Easy cancellations/waitlist removal: Giving customers the option to join easily is one of the best benefits of a waitlist app. Sometimes guests have a change of plans, so giving easy options to remove themselves from the waitlist is equally important. With a waitlist app, guests can remove themselves with a text or the click of a button – the software will automatically handle everything else (e.g., confirmation, moving up the next party, adjusted wait times for others waiting, notifications, etc.).

Manage restaurant guests effectively with a waitlist app

In today’s tech-driven world, a waitlist app for walk-ins is a no brainer. Outdated pen-and-paper methods of managing waiting diners are inefficient and inaccurate. A digital solution is a cost-effective way of delivering value to your customers while tightening up your operations and driving sales.

Case study: How Applebee’s improves the guest experience with Waitwhile

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