Hacking Queues – Casual Hospitality

Hacking Queues – Casual Hospitality
December 19, 2019 Adam Stead
In Uncategorized
casual hospitality

What is “casual hospitality”? Well, for our series on queueing, we’ve devised three hospitality categories: grab-and-go, casual hospitality, and sit-down restaurants.

As a side-effect of being the central category is that it’s also the worst defined; but could include anything – from the kind of lunch spot it wouldn’t really make sense to book, to a cafe where you sit down, to the tea rooms on the edge of a historic building. Your cafe is more than just a watering hole for commuters – it may be a social hub, an area for friends and family to gather on weekends, or for foodies to try out different pastries. Pubs and bars also tend to fall into this category. 

One way to measure it is by spend per head. If your patrons are spending more than the £4.00 average spend they would in a takeaway coffee shop; and less than the £16.00 plus they would in a sit-down restaurant – it’s a good chance you’re “casual hospitality.” 

We also advise that you check out the article either side of this which feels more relevant to you – “grab & go” or “restaurant queuing”. 


The “queuenomics” of casual hospitality 

In a restaurant, people queue for tables. In grab and go, people queue once to pay, and then perhaps again to pick up their order. “Casual Hospitality” opens the frightening possibility that we might queue for all three elements – first the table, then payment, then the food.

1) What are your queuers queueing for?

what are you queueing for

Our first step to manage our queues better is to identify what is the element of our service with the lowest throughput or the bottleneck – which is where the worst queues are likely to develop. This is where you should focus your queuenomic energy. That might be table, payment, or food.

2) If they’re queueing for tables, you can only maximise output so far

full no room

The first: if you’re selling an experience, the curtailing factor becomes your space, rather than POS speed or kitchen output. That means that the rate at which you can serve customers slows down – they need to wait for a table to free up. 

In turn, this changes the queuenomic logic. First, it means that where there is a queue, the wait time per person begins to soar. Where there is a surge, it’s less possible to capture the value of the extra customers who might get a table in the end. 

Remember, good queue management is important; but in order to serve more people at the same time, you need a higher throughput, which probably means producing more, faster. Or in this case, more tables.

3) When you’re at maximum table capacity, you may want to investigate adding grab & go elements. 

available / full

If your tables are full, but you’re not at maximum capacity in your kitchens, that could mean you need to think about how to speed customers up or add more tables. But it also makes sense to add elements which bypass the “table” altogether – if it’s appropriate for your business, add grab-and-go elements which will enable you to continue serving extra customers.  

If many of your queuers will not need to sit down or there’s ample seating space and the main thing to queue for is the food/drink itself, that means that removes the primary upper limit of the number of people you can serve. 

The only thing stopping you is the demand you can generate and the number of people you can serve.If you’re a grab & go, the health of your business depends on maximising throughput.


4) Are single queuers catered for?


single queuer

In “open car park” queues (read below) – where there’s a queue for both the tables and the food, it can be really difficult for single individuals to “hold” the table while they go to queue for their food. Often, they end up attempting to hold their table with clothes or items they happen to have on their person – leaving them vulnerable to theft. 

There’s ways you can get around this! One solution is that a restaurant can provide markers indicating that a table is being “held”. Otherwise, you could begin to look into table service options if you have a lot of single queuers.

5) The intangible goods queue trap


table and muffin

A danger with casual hospitality is that some customers are interested in tables, and not what you produce. 

One example of this is the WiFi-Maximisation Layout, which can work with some of the queue styles below; but for which the cafe is principally defined by its superb ability to accomodate people doing work. A student cafe will dedicate lots more space to tables, and invest less in fancy furnishings. The main selling point will be working space and a reasonable price list. You might have a variety of differently sized tables – some for study-dates, some for bigger group discussions – positioned as close to power outlets as feasible. 

But this isn’t the same as paying for consumption of food or drink. Food and drink is a type of tangible good – you can feel it, touch it, hold it. We are prepared to spend more on tangible goods. Even if the intangible good – using a table for an hour – is worth more to us. 

As ever, that means you should allocate space to that which makes you money.

6) It’s possible to smooth out demand

Just as adding grab & go elements could be a coup d’etat in the demand peaks, it’s worth leveraging things which attract lower-throughput customers in your troughs. The only thing worse than a long queue is no queue at all. 

7) Have a “loitering” strategy

Where there’s a lot of people standing around, it’s worth thinking about where you want people to stand while they wait for a table or stand with a drink. Any floor plan should make adequate space for “loiterers” – figure out specifically what your overspill area looks like, and how you can make it comfortable for people standing there.

That might include high tables, a shelf along a wall to pop drinks, or a space away from the other tables reserved solely for standers. It might also mean creating an outdoor area where people can loiter.  

Queueing for Tables

Open or Closed Car Parks?

Open Car Park Queues

open car park

One question which arises in larger casual hospitality venues is the question of “open or closed car parks”. 

The “open car park queue” – this is a type of queue in which a key element of service being queued for is a table, and there’s no management – or proper “queue” – at all. Like cars driving around a large open car park looking for a space, patrons will begin to mill around tables waiting for a table to free up. It typically occurs in large outdoor venues. 

Like many of the more chaotic queueing systems, the open car park comes with a set of complex sociological rules. No party wants to mill too closely to a table at which people are still eating, because that would be rude. No party wants to stand too far from a table at which people might shortly stop eating, because to do so would forgo a potential table spot. A party looking for a table can’t explicitly cut in front of another party which has been searching for longer – it would be poor sportsmanship. But, given a chance, there’s some pleasure to be taken in cutting ahead. 

There’s also an array of tactics for taking up as much of a table as possible with a single individual where a party has split up to maximise their chances of success in a hunt. Hats, scarves, bags, and other items are artfully placed such that they look strewn au natural across parts of the table a few individuals are hoping to maintain as they wait for the rest of the party to arrive. It goes without saying, this queue causes a high level of queue anxiety because competition for tables drives patrons up against the edge of social rules – not a great return experience. 

To maximise the flexibility but of an open car park, it can make sense to have very long tables and benches which shows conclusively that it’s OK to share a table with another party – there’s four tables with forty seats each, so that’s just the way the venue works. This can be less anxiety-inducing than tables which seem large for the couple using them; because there’s less onus on a standing couple to “ask to share” – you can just sit down.

Closed Car Park Queues

closed car park queue

The alternative is the closed car park – that is, any kind of system in which seats are allocated; or a queue which goes outside of the venue and into which customers are not permitted until there’s a table available for them. 

All of the systems listed in the “table service restaurant” will be closed car park style queues, as the assumption in such set-ups is that it makes sense to maximise internal space for tables.


Which is right for me?

In favour of “open” 

– Cheaper. The main advantage of the open car park is that it requires no management. That means you don’t have to pay anyone to do any queue management, which is great – and it could be 

– More efficient. Unmanaged table queues tend to be very efficient relative to central management as the queue members are constantly on the lookout for a new table and every table will be filled immediately. 

In favour of “closed”: 

– Fairer. Central management enables you to organise the queue in favour of “first come, first served” – which is preferable.

– Less anxiety for consumers. By removing the element of competition, this is a less anxiety-inducing queue, which many customers prefer.

More control. When you have bookings in an open car park system, you need to place a marker on the table warning people well ahead of time – reservation for Cindy at 7PM. When you don’t, you can keep internal control without having to put out signals early, meaning you can be more flexible with who goes where.


Queueing for Food & Payment


canteen style queue

The canteen layout is a popular choice to accompany an open car park style table layout. Queuers are stood in a line, and are typically served their food one-by-one before proceeding with their queue to the checkout at the end. 


– This is a highly interactive queue where you can see your food – a great choice if you have a low proportion of return customers and people benefit from being shown what they’re choosing. 

– This queue is great for upselling as customers have to reject items one by one. Surround your queuers with yummy things. The majority of wall space is dedicated to displaying your artisan sourdough and to-die-for donuts. Splitting produce up around the shop floor means you can highlight specialised goods – you might wish to promote your gluten-free or vegan baked goods. If you upsell per customer, that’s one way that queuenomics can impact your bottom line.

– The door and service/waiting area is contained and far away from most tables – preventing customers from being too disturbed by the hustle and bustle of the door and service area. 

– This is a low-anxiety queue as everybody knows exactly what is expected of them. 

– If you wish to display your food to customers, this is a much tidier queue than a Pret-style alternative where you choose and stand in a chaotic waiting area. 


– This is a low-throughput queue and can be inappropriate if the queue for food is your primary bottleneck. But if your primary bottleneck is access to tables, this may not matter.

– This queue is bad for people ordering single items. They may find they have to wait for someone being served a complex array of different bits – when they only want to pay for their bottle of water. 



If you don’t put that much thought into your queue, you may find you default to a “Pret” or “Starbucks” style queue described in detail chapter 1

Then, there’s a decision to make – do you want your customers standing and waiting for your food, or would you prefer for them to sit down? 

If you want your customers to stand and wait, read our full breakdown of Pet and Starbucks queues in the previous chapter as this works best for “grab and go” stations. These are generally designed for customers who won’t wait for very long for their food (<3 minutes). 



– People are more comfortable waiting when they are sat down than stood up; and will wait for longer. 

– Waiters stood around waiting for food can be irritating to sat-down patrons and ruin the ambience of the venue. 

– This allows you to separate out your grab and go customers from your sit down customers – which is very useful if you have both. 

– This is a higher throughput queue than canteen-style queueing.



There’s one distinction between a “pub style” queue and the “Pret/Starbucks” style queue – which is a long bar. 


– This is what people expect from pubs. It can therefore contribute to the ambience of a pub in a way that a “canteen” would surely detract. 

– This allows multiple people to be “seen” at once. A talented bar staff member can simultaneously take payment from queuer 1, ask the preference of queuer 2, and pour a pint for queuer 3; meaning it can make sense as a rapid queue system. However, this is a tough skill to acquire and generally requires experienced bar staff, who cost extra. Also, that skill is less applicable to items which aren’t pints. 

– The space it requires is squatter than the Starbucks/Pret “sit down” queue. Depending on the way space in your venue works, it’s likely to be more space-effective to have a queue which is horizontal and flat against the bar than a thin snake away from it. 



– This queue comes with a high level of queue anxiety and unfairness. We all know the strategies for getting ahead in queues like these – choose a seam between parties, touch the bar, move forward, and then make yourself wider, filling the space as people leave. That makes it a competitive queue and one which upsets customers, as it rewards boisterous and aggressive queuers.

Technology to Alleviate Casual Dining Queues

StoreKit is a marketplace for restaurant technology, so here’s our pitch: if you’re interested in any of the technologies described here, get in touch. We don’t sell our own product – we partner with all the best technology on the market, and usually their competitors, meaning that we can refer you to several different options and explain which we think is the best for you. This comes without raising the price. And even if the product isn’t something we directly resell, (EPOS systems), get in touch – we can still help you out. 

Self-ordering Kiosks

The “self-ordering kiosk” is touted as a discrete system in our previous chapter. (Read here). We’re huge fans, and the price has recently dropped a great deal. Whereas this previously required a bespoke solution and hardware, it can now be done with iPads. You can affix an iPad per table if you don’t like or have room for standing tills. There are ways to fix this down securely and they can be easily removed at night. 

The software for self-ordering comes with some EPOS software brands. There are plenty of EPOS software vendors which sell the self-ordering option as part of their package. Get in touch to find out more

All the evidence available suggests people order more from bots; and additionally, the software fee and hardware will soon be cheaper than the extra time you’d need to pay a person to collect orders. That means that there’s a lot of upside to self-ordering kiosks, and not much downside. 

Rapid EPOS Systems

EPOS software should be simple, rapid, and intuitive. If your bottleneck is people inputting their order at the till, consider that it might be your EPOS which is slowing you down. Can you select items as quickly as you’d like? Are your payments integrated, or do you have to type out everything twice? Is the ordering “conversational” – or does it force the customer to say their order in a specific way? 

Read about EPOS front-of-house for restaurants

Buzzer Systems

A buzzer mainly makes sense as a food queueing system – picking up your buzzer takes as long as it does to give payment, so it’s not going to cut down your payment or table waiting times. It also is associated with some hardware costs. That said, there’s a few EPOS systems which are capable of managing buzzers and they can be a great choice if you have a large casual hospitality venue in which table service isn’t practical. 

Get in touch to find out more

Ordering Apps

The Wetherspoons App is among the most popular food ordering experiences there is! While it’s true this eliminates a queue at the bar, for smaller outlets, you may find that it’s easier to add a self-order iPad kiosk to each table from which people can order – it’s notoriously difficult to get people to download your app, and there are substantial security measures you can take such as encasing much of the iPad in the table.  That said, if you operate in a rowdy environment and you’re concerned about breakage, get in touch and we can talk you through the “ordering app” market – and the kind of investment a simple ordering app would require. 

Get in touch to find out more


Facial Recognition Technology 

One new style of technology which entered the market last year is facial recognition technology – this will identify which patron has been waiting the longest where a queue is stubbornly “bar-style”. It seems like it could be niche – but we’re excited to see how it plays out in casual hospitality. 

Get in touch to find out more

Queueing for “Closed Car Park” Technology 

“Your Table is Ready” Texts

Text booking systems are generally intended to book tables in “closed car park” style queues. So read on to the next chapter to find out, how do you manage a long queue of people waiting for a table? 



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