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Restaurants embrace wait-list apps for added convenience

Mobile applications such as The List are lending convenience to customers met with long wait times at restaurants with updates via text message when their table is ready. 

With this capability, customers are able to venture around without worrying about losing their reservation. The food and beverage industry’s acceptance of mobile is enabling more flexible experiences and satisfied customers.

“It’s nice to see restaurants harnessing and embracing mobile to better service customers,” said Tony Vlismas, head of strategy at Polar, Toronto. “We’ve already had Yelp for reviews, and check-in apps like Facebook and Foursquare, but these new apps are become more utility to customers.

“Apps like The List let you explore the area around you while you wait; Apple integrates local apps within Maps and their App Store,” he said. “You’ll see apps like Yo being used to notify customers when their table is ready.

“The reality is we always carry our phones and they’re always on. Some will try to get you to turn them off, but the successful restaurants will be those that embrace new technology.”

Mobile capabilities
Penelope, a well-known restaurant in New York’s Murray Hill neighborhood, is renowned for its brunch menu. Wait times normally exceed two hours on the weekends, so Penelope uses The List, a free iTunes app, for added convenience for its customers.

Upon signing in, the host or hostess requests customers’ phone numbers. The service sends a text message to customers that contain a link to download The List.

After downloading, the app recognizes the current reservation that has been made and automatically appears when the app is opened.

The List shows users how many parties are in front of their own party. Once users are next in line, the app sends a text message telling users to come to the front desk, as their table is being prepared.

The channel of interest
The app also contains a tip calculator and the menus of the restaurants that users will be dining at. Users also have the option to loop in the other members of their party, allowing them to access the wait list, also.

Even though a two-hour wait can be gruesome, restaurants’ use of apps such as The List allow customers the ability to leave the restaurant and receive updates on their phones. Customers can then make use of their wait time and do something other than sit or stand in a crowded entryway.

In the midst of a rise of popularity in mobile ordering and restaurant review apps, wait list apps act similarly by providing convenience for customers that most likely have smartphones and use them as sources of reference and research.

Despite the convenience they lend to consumers, the ultimate hurdle for these apps is monetization.

“Mobile is becoming a great tool because of the sheer volume of data that these apps can tap into and personalize for you, and of course the peer review element of many is highly valued also,” said Alan Pelz-Sharpe, research director of social business applications at 451 Research Group, Boston. “Tied to the first part of that personalization, tracking your actual location and bringing a level of previously impossible granularity to those recommendations is very important.

“I would also have to say that these are hard apps to monetize, and the business structures behind many of them are tenuous at best,” he said. “Similarly, there is the challenge that folks are getting more and more wary of providing the level of personal data required to drive them effectively.”

Final Take
Caitlyn Bohannon is an editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York