New technology helps restaurants shorten table wait times

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Restaurants may soon benefit from technology that lets staffers accurately estimate the wait times on occupied tables.

The Orlando Sentinel reports Darden Restaurants is experimenting with software that factors how far along guests are in the dining process; the number of people at a table; and historic wait times on individual tables to crunch exactly how long you’ll have to wait. Darden owns Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze and Seasons 52.

For my money, I’ll only wait about 10 minutes for a table before leaving. But some of the people who work on my show told me they’ll wait between 30 minutes and about an hour and 15 minutes, depending on if there’s a bar or not. (My executive producer Christa says she’ll happily wait one hour at a bar by herself, with her husband or with friends. But she’ll only wait 10 minutes if she has her 2 children in tow!)

In related news, in my TV work I once reported on a system in Europe where servers can run your credit card tableside using little devices instead of having to go off with it. That system allows European restaurateurs to turn tables over about 4 minutes faster than we do here in the United States.

Meanwhile, I also read a recent story about how Walt Disney World is using new computer-aided technology and experienced staff to shorten wait times at their parks. If they know too many people are in one area of the park, and not enough in another, their software will signal them to have an instant parade. Guests apparently love to follow the cute Disney characters wherever they go. Talk about crowd manipulation!

Even the federal government is using technology at 2 airports in Chicago and New York to speed lines at immigration and customs.

Editor’s note: This segment originally aired Jan. 2011

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