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Ditching Restaurant Pagers for iPads: Startup NoWait Innovates the Wait List

Ditching Restaurant Pagers for iPads: Startup NoWait Innovates the Wait ListIt’s no secret that restaurant paging systems used to manage the restaurant waitlist are expensive and annoying to restaurant operators and their customers. Coaster pager systems cost restaurants thousands of dollars, are easily lost or stolen, and perform only one simple task: they buzz. Pagers limit wait time options for restaurant customers because pagers have a limited working radius. They also get passed around from guest to guest throughout the busy day, so who wants to touch those things?

Enter NoWait, a leap forward in wait list management. Thanks to the ubiquity of cell phone text messaging and new tablets like the iPad, NoWait is changing how restaurants manage a busy rush and how their customers wait for a table. The idea itself is quite simple: a restaurant host creates a waitlist to manage the customer queue in the NoWait iPad App, asking the customer for name, party size, and phone number. NoWait sends an initial confirmation text notification to the guests, and when there is a table ready for the party, the host presses a single button to text an alert to that party.

The Story

The entire idea started one Sunday morning in San Francisco when Robb Myer, now CEO of NoWait, tried to get a table for brunch. After numerous failed attempts to find a restaurant without a monstrous wait, one of the locations where Myer had first stopped called him with an available table. At this moment he thought to himself, there must be a better way to go about doing this.

Within a few months, the NoWait team was born and working on building a beta product to test while participating in the Alphalab Technology Incubator (part of the TechStars network). NoWait incorporated in June, 2010 and by August of the same year began testing the first version of the NoWait Host App in 10 restaurants in the Pittsburgh market. The testing period was very important to getting a product off the ground quickly, and any new venture ought to consider the value of obtaining constant feedback at any stage in product development.

NoWait’s goal was to make the waiting process much easier for both restaurant and patron, in essence, an ‘OpenTable for Casual Dining’. The name itself suggests that if you Wait Where You WantTM, you really feel like there is no wait. Beta testing of the waitlist software revealed that NoWait did in fact provide this value to both restaurant and patron. Restaurants started retaining more guests as they better managed their wait and streamlined their front of house operations. The use of an iPad coupled with the initial confirmation text increased guests’ confidence in being seated promptly. Guests said they were more inclined to accept a wait for a table, allowing the restaurant to retain this incremental business. Beyond these positive findings, the beta test period also revealed one key factor to success: the native iOS App.

The App

Contrary to competitive services such as Textaurant, Diner Connection, or Fresh Txt, NoWait’s product is a native App that operates on Apple’s iOS platform. The competitive services mentioned produce a similar wait list management product, however they operate over a web browser (e.g. Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari), and by default cannot respond as fast as a native App. NoWait’s beta testing indicated how important speed would be to the restaurant operator, considering that any restaurant using NoWait would be very busy since it would be managing a wait list. From the ground up, NoWait has focused on developing a faster, more reliable product, which has proven a key factor in its success.

A further advantage of the NoWait Host App is its ability to sync in real-time. While the host operates the NoWait iPad App from the host stand, floor managers, owners, etc… can log into their account from their iPhone or iPod Touch, or even from another iPad, and stay updated on the waitlist. This means a floor manager can view parties, notify them, etc… from any corner of the restaurant and not have to run up to the host stand. Owners tend to love this feature because they can see how busy their restaurant is when they’re not there. The sync feature is also helpful for very large restaurants that will use the waitlist App on multiple iPads and have many floor managers or hosts that can use the iPods.

Mobile Engagement

NoWait taps into a present technological trend. As customers text, engage in social media, and otherwise play on their smartphones while they wait, restaurants can leverage this new addiction to smartphones to distract guests from the wait and retain their business. NoWait gives restaurants the ability to write targeted messages in its text notifications to better connect with its patrons. Guests can be reminded of a dinner special or receive a discount on a drink at the bar. Links can be included for guests to “like” the restaurant on Facebook and “follow” the restaurant on Twitter, and all of this activity is measurable. Social media can be a tricky beast to tame, but NoWait provides a platform to better engage restaurant guests.

Ditching Restaurant Pagers for iPads: Startup NoWait Innovates the Wait ListExpansion

Since expanding out of Pittsburgh, NoWait counts customers in cities like Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Dallas, and Atlanta, states such as Florida, California, Illinois, and Idaho, and NoWait has even expanded into Canada. Because NoWait was built for the iOS (read: iPad, iPhone, iPod) platform, it is very easy to start using the NoWait iPad App. Curious parties can download the free iPad or iPod App from the Appstore onto their own hardware, or if they need hardware, NoWait ships an iPad and iPod for free use during NoWait’s 14-day free trial. NoWait has launched several pilot programs with national account franchise holders with plans to expand rapidly throughout the U.S. and Canadian markets.

NoWait has come a long way since CEO Robb Myer’s fateful brunch in San Francisco. Already seeing success in the markets across the nation, the NoWait team now seeks to add new features to their iPad App. While the waitlist has traditionally been a tool for the front of house, NoWait plans to provide an additional consumer engagement portal. “We’re continuously brainstorming new ways to reduce tension between the guests and the dreaded waitlist,” reports Luke Panza, Business Director, “and we’re encouraging the restaurant industry to jump on board with the technology their guests are already using.”

Keep an eye on NoWait, coming soon to a restaurant near you!

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