Queues are nothing uncommon; a typical person spends five years of their lifetime waiting in lines and queues. Some of these are unavoidable. There is no way to skip a queue for a doctor’s appointment or a postal office, so these are considered known evils.
The challenge comes from avoidable queuing, for example, in shops and restaurants. First and foremost, the customer need not wait in the queue; one can just go out and buy food somewhere else. This is typical, especially considering the psychological aspects of queuing.
Psychology of queuing
One of the key challenges with queuing is in fact that the perceived waiting time is much longer than factual. With that, a 10-minute stand sometimes feels like 40 minutes of waiting. With the perceived waiting time comes the customer experience. The food can be delicious, yet when having to wait (subjective) too long, the experience remains poor.
When it comes to waiting, the customers are unwilling – up to 73% of consumers would abandon their purchase if they had to wait more than five minutes. Also, 59% are willing to wait no longer than four minutes, and 25% consider over two minutes as unbearable.
The emotions rising in the queue are so strong that nearly one in every five people (19%) had an argument with a partner or a friend while waiting in line.
Arguments, poor experiences, and losing clients—that’s basically what every business owner wishes to avoid. That’s why restaurants implement various queue management systems.
From basic to sophisticated – approaches to queue management
Queuing is sometimes unavoidable but rarely welcome. The queuing customs vary depending on the culture and the matter, yet no matter the context, there is always a need to manage the queue. Currently, there are five main approaches.
is Probably the most popular and the simplest way to manage a queue. It is widely seen in mass transportation hubs. The queue is usually shaped using rope-made barriers, encouraging people to stand in a particular area, and making the line more space-effective.
- Simplicity – this way of queue management is the easiest to establish and usually the cheapest one. Also, due to its popularity, it is easy to be recognized in every culture and context. By that, all the behaviors are known.
- Opportunities for impulse purchases – this aspect is exploited in a retail setting, where queuing people can easily grab a snack or drink on the last mile (or rather last-metter)
- Self-supervision – the queue of this type is usually self-managing, with people getting annoyed when one tries to cut it. Also, depending on culture, people in the queue can decide to spontaneously let someone go first – for example, a pregnant woman or a person with a disability.
- Not-that-space-effective – despite the ability to shape the queue with barriers, the line of standing people take valuable place
- Poor experience – having to stand for a prolonged period, in close proximity to other people can be a poor experience at most. Also, there is little to no way to make it better in any way. Also, the longer the queue, the worse the experience.
- Discouraging – sometimes just a sight of a queue is enough to make one resign from purchase. The longer the queue, the more discouraging it looks, and it significantly reduces the growth potential.
- Proximity – last but not least, the pandemic has shown that staying in close proximity and queuing can be dangerous and it increases the risk of spreading contagious diseases.
- Scalability – the system is impossible to adopt in any type of restaurant apart from fast casual ones.
The ticket printer is a more advanced way to manage a queue. It usually consists of a printer and a display, usually above the serving desk or in another visible place. The customer prints the ticket with a number, and the cashier changes the number in the display. The customer can take a sit anywhere he or she wills, waiting. Usually, there is also a signal that informs that the number changes.
- More convenient – this approach lets people sit around while waiting, making space management easier and their comfort much greater.
- Simple – the approach requires a bit more technical investment, yet it is not a great financial commitment. The system is simple enough to be swiftly implemented and deliver result right after
- Captive audience – customers need to sit in the restaurant to wait for one’s turn. And by that, they are exposed to ads and promotional material, effectively increasing their brand awareness
- Poor experience – although the system is more comfortable and delivers a better experience than standing in a line, it is just above that. The participant needs to pay attention to the display and cannot engage in anything else that absorbs his or her attention
- Lack of connectivity – this type of system delivers little to no information about the traffic and comes with no analytics. Also, it is usually hard to integrate with other smart restaurant solutions.
Basically a more sophisticated version of a ticket printer, the digital signage is joined with a ticket printer and displays the numbers in a more attractive way. It can be also used to deliver the menu in a legible and attractive way – up to 74% of customers consider easy to read menu their top priority. Also, the digital signage systems are usually delivered by high-tech companies that make the device full of additional features – for example simultaneous management of multiple queues.
- Better experience – systems of this class usually divide the queue into two separate lines – orders and meal delivery. By that, the waiting times are shorter, even if the cumulative time remains the same, effectively improving the experience.
- More connectivity – digital signage systems are usually possible to connect via API or middleware with smart restaurant systems. For example, it is common to print the number in the meal takeaway queue on a fiscal printer, as a separate number.
- Better brand exposition – digital signage is a high-quality and better-resolution display that, apart from numbers, can show promotional materials and information about promotions.
- Cost – this type of device usually has higher costs of implementation. This is not a typical “con” – rather a feature that needs to be counted in.
- More tech work – implementing the digital signage-based system requires a partnership with a tech partner. Restaurant and hospitality companies rarely have enough skills to implement this tech on their own.
- Maintenance – digital signage consumes more energy than a simple display. It also requires skilled technicians to provide service.
Buzzer is an electronic device that is handled by the customer after he or she has paid for the meal. When the order is ready, the device beeps, buzzes, or emits the information, so the customer can take the meal.
- Discrete? – the system works with more discretion than digital signage. Every customer can sit at his or her table waiting for a meal to be prepared
- Effective – every guest gets the buzzer, so the risk of confusing or losing an order is minimal
- Good branding – the customer pays attention to the buzzer, so the device comes as a great opportunity to improve brand awareness.
- Hygiene – buzzer is repeatedly held in hands of multiple people, so it can be the medium of transmission of contagious diseases
- Lack of flexibility – buzzer collects little to no data about customers. It serves the purpose of informing about a meal, yet it is not gathering or processing any additional information
- Annoying – in the end, the buzzer is not delivering the best experiences regarding queue management. It beeps or annoys the user in another form.
- Solves only a part of the problem – contrary to some other sophisticated systems, buzzer manages only the meal delivery queue. The ordering queues need to be managed in some other way, for example with tickets or digital signage.
- Device-dependent – buzzer is a physical device and as such it can be damaged. The coke or hot sauce may be spilled on it, it can be dropped on the floor, stood or put in the pocket and forgotten about. If it happens so, the system malfunctions.
Virtual queue in the mobile app
The virtual queue combines the advantages of nearly all systems described above, yet comes with much more flexibility and unique features. The system leverages the fact that nearly all people have smartphones and can access the internet or install a mobile app to have an access to a queue. As the core functionality, the system displays the queue status and informs the client about his or her place.
- Customer control – the customer has full control over his or her placement, with access to the status from nearly anywhere. Thus, with a long queue, there is no problem with a short walk or mini session with Netflix.
- Positive experience – having the liberty to wander around or do whatever one wishes, to sit or stand or go for a walk – you name it – greatly improves the experience. Also, no matter how long the queue is, it never looks overwhelming, and by that, doesn’t scare away potential customers.
- Connectivity – the virtual queue accessible via smartphone can be fully connected with basically all systems the company uses or seems fitting to integrate. By that, there is great potential for further automation and improvements. For example, 92% of top-performing restaurants in the US use mobile apps to deliver loyalty programs, order-ahead or a combination of both.
- Data gathering – the virtual queue system deliverable with a smartphone can gather massive amounts of data, that the company can analyze and mine insights from.
- Multiple ways of usage – the modern technological landscape allows companies to connect with customers in many different ways. The customer can have an app installed or the PWA website launched. It can be done by generating and scanning QR codes. Apple users enjoy App Clips, so the user needs not to install an app to enjoy its core functionality. There are a plethora of possibilities.
- Cost – the solution is the most sophisticated and by that, most complicated and expensive. On the other hand though, the most sophisticated systems like Ordering Stack deliver outstanding return on investment, with the system bringing profits shortly after the implementation.
- Initial Complication for the company – using the smartphone-based virtual queue system comes with nearly infinite possibilities and grabbing them can be a challenge itself. Despite being initially intimidating, the company usually gets used quickly to the new tech.
- Cellular service – while usually, it is not a challenge, the system needs access to the cellular service and to the internet to work properly. In a typical fast-casual restaurant in the city it is not a problem. But a more remote localization, for example near a highway in the middle of nowhere, can pose a greater challenge.
- Overkill – this is the ultimate queue management system. Yet it is not always necessary. Multiple businesses work well with more traditional systems.
The solutions above come as various responses for the problem of queues, with an assumption that a queue is an immanent element of the restaurant business. Yet it is not entirely true. How about no queue at all?
How to run a restaurant without queues
Queues arrive whenever there are too many people to serve efficiently. But modern business solutions allow companies to come up with many alternative channels and ways to serve the customer. This can result in either cutting the queues to a minimum or eliminating them all.
Transferring the ordering process fully to the internet makes the user see only the most convenient perspective. The order can be done from the mobile device in any context given – while commuting, from home, or from work. Also, the customer feels not the burden of queuing while waiting at home or having the meal right on time when arriving.
Digital kiosks can balance the queues in the physical location, taking the burden from cashiers and enabling customers to take as much time during ordering as they need. Installing these devices increases the ordering availability to the point of nearly wiping out the queues.
Mixing the channels in order and delivery is the heart of the omnichannel strategy. With greater freedom to switch and connect channels when ordering or picking up the food, the customer feels no queue at all. There is only an outstanding purchase experience.
In a restaurant business queue is not a bug – it is a feature. Queues show that the restaurant is popular and are a sign that there are customers interested. Properly managed queues come with no harm to the business, producing more satisfied and returning customers.
The key is in “management”. Queues left unmanaged can be a business-killer.