John Wooden said it, so it must be true. “Be quick, but don’t hurry.” The principle can be applied in basketball, life, and in running a restaurant effectively. We recently dug into a fascinating study from the Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly on “The Effect of Meal Pace on Customer Satisfaction,” and it made us really think.

Though it’s crucial to pay attention to how many covers you seat and how quickly you turn tables, it’s even more important to weigh any changes you make for efficiency’s sake against how the customer experience may be impacted. Everybody likes quick, attentive service, but nobody likes to feel rushed through a nice meal.


In the Cornell study, the dining experience is broken into three phases:

  1. Pre-process Phase – the phase between arriving at the restaurant and deciding what to order
  2. In-process Phase – the phase from placing the order to finishing the meal
  3. Post-process Phase – the phase from settling the check to leaving the restaurant


The study suggests that guests are most upset when delays occurred in the pre- or post-process stages of the meal; that is, when they were made to wait too long for their table or their check. They didn’t mind delays as much once they had already been seated. In this piece, we’ll focus on three front-of-house actions that achieve both gains in efficiency and boosts in customer satisfaction with the goal of improving your preprocess experience for guests.


Guest Recognition

“Welcome back, [your name]! Would you like your regular table? Can I bring over two glasses of the house Cab again?” Fine dining establishments spend big money on maître d’s who focus on making regulars feel special. Not everybody has the means to pay for a beloved, bespectacled maître d’, but a small investment in technology (restaurant CRMs) that keeps track of guest profiles can go a long way. A host can quickly put a name to a face, and immediately get a sense of any preferences or requests that might be expected.


Accurate Wait Times

Waiting is part of the restaurant experience, and most reasonable guests won’t hold it against you. What will irk them, however, is misquoting a wait time. When half an hour turns into an hour, you’ve lost a lot of the good will anybody comes to a new restaurant with. There are systems to help you predict expected wait time based on historical data, so even if you experience turnover at the host stand, you can continue to be accurate in your stated wait times.


Waiting Wherever They Like

Provide guests with the flexibility to wait at the bar, check out the cute boutique next door, wait outside the restaurant or wherever they desire. Restaurant wait list apps enable hosts to keep track of the waiting guests notify them with text alerts when their table is ready. Unlike the traditional pagers, there are no range/distance restrictions and guests are not required to hold on to a clunky device. If a guest feels as though they are in control of their wait, it stops feeling like a wait, and becomes an enjoyable part of their dining experience!

Of course, you can perfect your preprocess experience and ruin a guest’s meal with bad food, poor service, or a slow check, but we know that won’t be the case!