The real reason why restaurant wait times are often overestimated


There’s a whole field of study devoted to how people react to queues. Qminder, a company dedicated to solving queuing issues, has a blog post that outlines the various things people need to wait patiently for long periods of time. Essentially, people have to believe that the queue is fair and progressing.

Part of the idea that a line is progressing comes from the white lie that hosts give to potential guests. They overestimate how long it will take before a table at the restaurant becomes available. Philadelphia explains that while a host may tell you to wait an hour, they will try to seat you first. The logic of this is explained in an article published by SSRN. If the restaurant succeeds in getting the customer seated before the hour is up, the customer is satisfied with the good fortune. If the restaurant fails, the customer has been prepared for a longer wait than the host expected.

There are, however, two things to keep in mind. First, if the expected wait is too long, customers may feel discouraged. Second, the document was released before pandemic strains and inflation began to hurt small restaurants. As a result, while the tactic may work on many customers, hosts are still dealing with an already more volatile customer base. If people are patient, they will most likely be rewarded.


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