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Trendinista: Are tech-savvy diners getting too much information?

Trendinista: Are tech-savvy diners getting too much information?

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No one can predict how potential customers will behave when they learn from a restaurant’s POS system or online waitlist—in real time—exactly how busy it is. Let’s just hope that the old Yogi Berra line—”Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded”—doesn’t become an accurate assessment of restaurants that give customers this level of access. 

There’s no question that many restaurant customers now rely on tech tools to inform their dining decisions. “As restaurants integrate more customer-facing technology, usage among consumers is growing,” says Hudson Riehle, senior v.p. of research for the National Restaurant Association. “When done right, it can help a restaurant’s productivity and the customer experience.”

However, the latest round of technology options provides so much transparency that hungry consumers, able to assess a restaurant’s activity level from afar, may never make it to the restaurant in the first place.

One groundbreaking development on the transparency front is Venue Vibes, a free app that comes from mobile payment platform provider Dash Software. Here now it works.

“Venue Vibes provides an accurate gauge of restaurant and bar atmosphere that changes with the ebb and flow of guest volume,” the company says in a release. “By leveraging its patented, proprietary integration technology, Dash continuously tracks how many tabs are open in their venues' POS (point of sales) systems against the venue's capacity, making real-time data on a venue's ‘mood’ available to the public for the first time.”

Right now, the Venue Vibes service covers 50 restaurants in New York City and another 30 in Chicago. Customers there use the app to remotely learn whether a restaurant is packed or if its dining room is a sea of empty tables. Both levels of activity, and those in between, hold appeal for different groups of customers at different times. They could also be a turnoff for others.

Venue Vibes doesn’t provide hard numbers. Instead, it classifies restaurant activity into four categories:

• Lively, which indicates that it’s “pretty darn rowdy in the venue.”

• Active, ideal for those who aren’t “looking to join the masses, but still want to find a bar or restaurant with some energy.”

• Relaxed, indicating a restaurant is “not empty, but certainly not crowded.”

• Quiet, thought to hold appeal as “a perfect date-night venue.”

Outback Steakhouse now provides customers with a similar level of information via its new Click Thru Seating feature. It enables guests to learn real wait times without having to physically be present in the restaurant, and then tells them exactly when to arrive to claim their table.

The key benefit: instead of worrying about how long their wait will be and how fast they will be seated, guests can get on the wait list and know when their table will become available. They can then make short-term plans to use the wait interval for something more productive than hanging around the lobby of the restaurant.

“Outback is excited to be the only national restaurant chain to provide guests with convenient online access to real-time wait time data, helping them put their name on the waitlist to get seated faster,” a company release notes. “With Click Thru Seating, guests simply visit to view the current wait time at their local Outback restaurant and put their name on the wait list for now or later. Unlike a traditional reservation, late guests will not be dropped from the wait list or penalized, making Click Thru Seating much more flexible than a reservation. Plus, because most people today are using mobile devices more than ever to simplify their lives, this tool provides guests with total control and accessibility to wait time data from any device, anywhere.”

From the customer’s perspective, both Venue Vibes and Click Thru Seating seem like valuable tools. They make it painless to shop around for the best-available dining experience without having to physically visit any restaurants. But for operators, let’s hope that if services like this catch on, they result in more of your dining room tables being filled, not fewer.

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