Eating out at a restaurant is a treat. Cramming into a crowded lobby to wait and wait and wait for a table is not.
That’s why I was so excited when I first heard about an app now being used in Wichita. It’s called Nowait, and it can cut down on the amount of time you spend gazing hopefully at your restaurant pager, willing it to buzz.
So far, only 20 local restaurants are participating: River City Brewing Co., Homegrown, The Good Egg, Doo-Dah Diner, both Wichita Brewing Co. restaurants, four local Carlos O’ Kelly’s, all three Chili’s in Wichita and one in Hutchinson, Red Robin, the west-side Jose Pepper’s, both On the Borders, Shindigs Bar and Grill in Winfield and The Barn in Burrton.
The app works like this: When you’re ready to head to your dining destination (one that doesn’t take reservations), you check the app to see the estimated wait time. If there isn’t one, the restaurant’s image will say “Come on in.” If there is a wait, the app will estimate how long the wait is.
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You add your name to the list, and the app will tell you how many parties are in front of you in line and suggest what time you should arrive to claim your table.
I’ve been testing the app for about three weeks now, and although it’s far from a perfect system, it’s a pretty good one.
The first time I used it, I went to Doo-Dah Diner at lunchtime. The app suggested I arrive at Doo-Dah in about five minutes, which was perfect because my office is only about five minutes away. The app also instructs you to check in with the host stand when you arrive. I did, and they had my name on the list. My party still had to wait about five minutes to get our table, but that wasn’t a big deal.
Doo Dah’s owner, Timirie Shibley, said her diner started using the app this summer. It’s been a good tool for the restaurant, which frequently has waits.
A restaurant must pay a monthly fee to get itself added to the app, Sibley said.
“It helps us more accurately predict wait times,” she said. “And it takes the guessing out of who’s next. It keeps track.”
The next time I tried Nowait, I gave it a tougher test. I wanted to take my mom out for brunch at the popular and always-crowded new brunch restaurant Homegrown at 2835 N. Maize Road. On a previous visit, our waitress had gone on and on about the virtues of Nowait.
I live about 20 minutes from Homegrown, so I put our name on the app just as we left my house on a recent Sunday morning. Nine parties were ahead of me, the app said, and I should arrive in about 20 minutes. Perfect.
When we got there, the lobby was packed as usual. I checked in with the hostess, who told me she’d alert me when the table was ready. I continually checked my app, which would alert me every time the number of parties in front of me decreased. We still had to wait to be seated for about 10 or 15 minutes after we arrived, but the people walking in the door at the same time as we did were quoted 30 and 45 minute waits for table.
When it was our turn, the app sent me an alert. At that same moment, the hostess called out our name.
Nowait doesn’t always work, and restaurants can turn it on and off at will. The folks at River City told me that they frequently turn it off during their busiest weekend rush times because it’s too much to deal with. But they almost always have it on otherwise.
On National Taco Day last week, I asked Nowait to let me know how long I’d have to wait for a table at On the Border on the east-side, which was offering a special on mini-tacos.
It was about 6:30 p.m, and the Nowait App read, “Come on in!” meaning there was no wait, so I could not add my name to the list. I was skeptical, but we trekked over anyway. When we arrived, the place was so packed that people were standing outside waiting for tables. We moved along and ended up next door at Redrock Canyon Grill, always a fine consolation.
Despite its imperfections, though, Nowait is certainly worth downloading. Don’t place all your trust in it, but if you give it a try, you’re likely to get delicious minutes of your life back.
Nowait is free to use. To download it, visit the app store on either your iPhone or Android phone and search for “Nowait.”