The recession has forced many consumers to curb their restaurant dining experiences and prepare more home-cooked meals. When they do go out, diners don’t want to spend the evening waiting for a table. The Boiling Crab is alleviating this tension by delivering estimated wait-time updates directly to customers’ cell phones and PDAs.
The Boiling Crab, Garden Grove, Calif., a seven-location casual-dining chain, has built its reputation and success on its loyal repeat customers. However, the restaurant’s “no reservations” policy has caused its share of challenges.
“Our menu is based on seafood that is ordered by the pound, and it is very social. It’s not uncommon to finish an order and add another pound or two to the bill,” explained Dada Ngo, owner and president, The Boiling Crab.
While the seafood delicacies and casual atmosphere attract big crowds nightly, wait times often exceed 90 minutes.
“It was hard to get a seat,” Ngo said, “and only half of those diners who put their name on the waiting list were willing to wait.”
When she began evaluating how to transition its traditional, paper-based waiting list into a more efficient method, Ngo’s options were sparse. She looked into electronic handheld pagers, but wasn’t pleased with the challenges they presented.
“They are often bulky; they aren’t interactive; and they only work within a limited range,” Ngo said. “If the diner walks out of the dedicated area, the pagers wouldn’t work, and diners would lose their table.”
That’s when a Los Angeles-based company called Ab Inventio LLC contacted The Boiling Crab with a solution. Its QLess virtual queue management solution allows restaurants to wirelessly deliver status updates and wait-forecasts directly to their diners’ mobile phones.
The solution requires nothing more than an Internet or wireless connection and a PC, laptop or iPhone to manage the solution that is accessed via a Web browser. As diners approach the hostess station, the hostess launches the application and inputs the party name, size and the contact’s mobile-telephone number.
Data is encrypted and securely transferred from the application to Ab Inventio’s servers via the technology vendor’s communications network. As patrons roam the shopping plaza or wait in the restaurant, they receive automated calls directly from the server, updating them on their estimated wait time. The chain also provides waiting diners with a dedicated toll-free number that they can call for automated updates.
The chain added the solution in its Garden Grove location in June 2008 and was managing crowds within two weeks. “Initially, our staff had to warm up to the technology, but now our hostesses feel the system is helping to organize our line-management process,” noted Ngo. “They don’t have as many hostile customers arguing that they were not updated on their wait status or were misquoted.”
The chain currently is perfecting the program at its Garden Grove location and plans to expand the solution in the near future. Ngo sees potential in using the solution to simultaneously manage two locations that operate in close proximity.
“We can estimate the wait time of both locations and give the wait time for both locations,” she explained. “This gives customers a choice of where to dine.”
The solution also provides a marketing tool that allows businesses to send opt-in targeted promotions and messages directly to customers’ cell phones. These details are uncovered through QLess’ reporting solution that analyzes customer visits based on their wait times, their location, frequency of visits and personal preferences.