The Psychology of Waiting: What All Restaurants Should Know

October 2020

In today’s world, we’re not used to waiting for anything anymore. Shipping should be immediate, groceries should be delivered same-day, and search results should come up with no loading times. 

People are willing to pay more to skip the wait. Subscription services for tv shows are hugely popular to avoid commercial interruptions, even with a free viewing option. You can even hire line sitters to hold your place so you can avoid long line waits.

If there’s one area that people don’t want to wait, and have an expectation that they shouldn’t have to, it’s in food ordering. Here’s what all restaurants should know about what customers feel when they wait:

Waits Feel Disrespectful

Customers feel disrespected when they think their time is wasted unnecessarily. Waiting in line is still required for many things, but nobody voluntarily goes to wait at a DMV. When it comes to waiting for food, customers can interpret rush time waits as a sign that the restaurant doesn’t respect their patronage.

When customers place an in-store order, if they feel the people in front of them are taking too long or that the employees are disorganized, they’ll be more frustrated when they get to the ordering point themselves. The same applies to customers who call in to place orders who are then put on hold for a long time.

Customers might actually anticipate being disrespected before they order, and look for signs to prove it. Customers who see orders coming out before theirs that were placed after their own might feel as though they were neglected, even if it’s just the preparation time difference between different dishes. 

Experience Is Everything

No matter how good the food, a negative wait experience can damage customer return. Research indicates that customers perceive a wait time as longer when they have nothing to do. Providing distractions in the form of activities, entertainment, or appetizers can help occupy customers and avoid bored downtime.

Some wait time for restaurants, especially in rush times, are hard to avoid. Providing an estimated time wait for pickup or dine-in, and then beating that wait time by a few minutes, can help customers to feel like the staff are focused on helping them. It can improve the wait experience when customers waiting for a table have a buzzer or text message notification, or at least a designated place to sit and wait.

Restaurants that have a large portion of takeout and delivery orders have to take additional steps to make sure customers don’t wait long and that their wait experience is positive. Feeling like they know how close their food is to being done at different steps can feel like the equivalent of moving forward in line. This helps to avoid the deadtime where customers question if they’ve been forgotten.

Customers Want to Feel In Control

A major reason why customers dislike line waits is because it removes their control of the situation. They’re at the mercy of those in front of them and the speed of the kitchen to move up in the queue. Customers have many options when it comes to picking a place to eat. When they’re forced to wait in line, on hold, or for food to be done, it can take that sense of control away from them.

One way to help customers feel in control is to offer multiple ordering options. Rather than forcing your restaurant to juggle phone calls for every takeout and delivery order, consider the addition of an online ordering option. Not only does this allow customers the convenience of ordering from anywhere, but it also reduces the number of people in each queue. 

With an easy to navigate mobile ordering app, customers can feel in control of their ordering experience. This can prevent long wait times by allowing customers to order on their time rather than waiting on a phone hold. In addition, a quality ordering system can integrate with phone orders to keep the ordering process simpler on both sides.

What Your Restaurant Can Do Now

Restaurants that understand their customers keep their customers. If you know the psychology of how customers perceive waiting, you have valuable information to help your customers feel respected, have a positive experience, and feel in control. Use this to shape your restaurant’s wait procedures, and you’ll be a step ahead of your competitors.


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