The sorry-we-don't-take-reservations trend has become nearly as ubiquitous as small plates. And while walk-in-only policies certainly have their advantages for restaurants (namely, not being plagued by no-shows), for diners it can be a real pain — who has two hours to wait for a table on a Wednesday night?
A new Yelp partnership is aiming to nip that phenomenon in the bud: The company just announced it's investing $8 million in Nowait, an app that allows users to virtually "get in line" at restaurants to drastically cut back the amount of time spent waiting for a table. Launched in 2014, Nowait raised more than $15 million in its first year. According to a press release, Nowait's functionality will be integrated into Yelp "in the coming months."
"For consumers it's really a magical experience," Nowait CEO Ware Sykes tells Eater. "With our app you can see what the wait times are at restaurants around you. You can literally enter the wait list via your phone and then show up at the restaurant when your table is ready. We're giving you the most precious asset of your life back, which is time."
The Nowait system replaces the more traditional pen-and-paper or buzzer systems used by many restaurants, largely removing human error from the equation. With those methods, "you have to be tethered to the restaurant and it can be frustrating," Sykes says. "The host will underquote or overquote the wait time and you have no idea how much time you'll actually spend waiting."
To ensure they fully understand the market they're serving, all Nowait employees have to work at the host stand a restaurant for a couple nights before they come on board. "Too often tech companies try to come up with what they think are the right solutions for businesses," Sykes explains."We realize at our core we're a hospitality business and we need to make sure our products seamlessly integrate with the restaurant's offerings. [Employees] come out with a greater appreciation of what it means to work in a restaurant, so it translates into us building better products."
Nowait is currently used by more than 4,000 casual-dining restaurants across the U.S., and the Yelp integration should allow for serious expansion. "There are hundreds of thousands of casual restaurants in the U.S., and we believe this experience should be in every restaurant imaginable," says Sykes.
Nowait's standalone app is currently available via the iTunes App and Google Play stores; its current restaurant arsenal includes both independently owned spots and major chains like Chili's. Earlier this year, it launched in-app mobile payments.
Helping users get in line for a table is just the latest new tool Yelp is adding to its arsenal in its quest to become an all-in-one app for diners, following in the footsteps of its own reservations system and delivery partnerships with various companies such as Eat24.