If you ever went to a busy restaurant, the hostess likely gave you a bulky pager that would flash and vibrate when your table was ready.
You also would sit around, wondering if the wait time was accurate or just optimistic.
Now, guests at the Village Tavern & Grill in Schaumburg, and other suburban restaurants, are notified on their smartphone with a prerecorded phone call or text when it's their turn to be seated. The new system, called NoWait, also allows guests to roam as far as they want and not worry about being in range for the notification. Guests also can respond to say they are on their way.
"We changed to NoWait because of the freedom it gives our guests," said Village Tavern owner J.R. Hutson. "They can just put their name on the list and it saves my wait staff from going over and over the list, wondering if someone is going to show up."
Since 2011, NoWait has seated about 41 million guests nationwide. Besides Village Tavern, other local restaurants that use NoWait include Moretti's in Bartlett, Lake in the Hills and Schaumburg; Eataly in Chicago and others. NoWait has offices in Pittsburgh and New York.
About a year ago, Hutson grew frustrated with his pager system, which cost thousands of dollars to install. Each lost device costs him $50. His restaurant would lose two to three such pagers each month, so the costs were mounting.
He also noticed that wait times would change and customers may not always want to wait during peak times. So he decided to explore new technology.
Hutson said he reviewed three or four similar apps, but chose NoWait because it cost $99 a month for the service, provided more accurate and updated wait times for guests, and offered two-way communications with guests.
"At first, we were more concerned about whether people would provide their phone number," Hutson said. "They were OK with it. They seemed more intrigued by the service."
He started NoWait in March 2013, and has since nearly eliminated his old pager system. He keeps a few pagers on hand for certain guests who either don't have a cellphone or don't want to provide their phone number.
Since using NoWait, Hutson said his restaurant has provided more accurate wait times and can more easily track who is seated and who may leave. For example, last Saturday night during their peak time, the Village Tavern had 279 guests seated and no one left while waiting for their table. After 10 p.m., the service isn't used because the rush is over and there is no waiting for tables, Hutson said.
In addition to the app used by the restaurant, NoWait also offers a free consumer version for download on iPhones or Android smartphones, company spokeswoman Lisa Hagendorf said.
The consumer version, which launched in Pittsburgh in 2013, expanded nationally earlier this year. But guests don't have to download the free app to go to Village Tavern because the restaurant's system will work without it.
However, the consumer app provides access to restaurants within a 30-miles radius that offers the system. It also allow them to put their name directly on the RSVP list of a restaurant. And guests don't need to call for a reservation or to check on how long it would take before a table is ready during peak times, she said.
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