Redesigning a Restaurant Queue System

The Scenario

  • The Mandarin Palace is a popular and very large city centre restaurant.
  • If you walk in without a reservation, the receptionist books you in and prints out a ticket to remind you of your spot in the queue.
  • Above reception, and in the bar area, is a large screen showing the status of the queue

  • There are actually three separate queues, shown as columns for small (1-2), medium (3-6) and large (7-10) parties, matching the three table sizes in the restaurant.

  • Each entry on the screen shows:

1. The number from your ticket showing the order in which you checked in.
2. The number of people in your party.
3. The number of minutes you’ve been waiting.
4. The time you checked in.

  • If you leave your mobile number, the receptionist will text you when you are 2nd and then 1st in the queue.
  • When a number reaches the top of the queue, the receptionist calls out the ticket number so people in the waiting area and in the bar can hear.

The Brief

Evaluate the user experience of this system and present a design that improves it.

You may change any aspect of the current system, the printed ticket, the screen display or the business process. There is no budget for replacing the system with something radically different, such as handing beepers out to waiting customers.

User Testing Results

I carried out a round of informal testing with two users acting as theoretical customers who are familiar with eating at Chinese restaurants, I asked them to identify the different pieces of information on the screen.

  • Coupled with the ticket, they were able to work out everything except for item 3 (the number of minutes that the person had been waiting), but it took a few minutes.
  • Felt that the place looked cheap: They would eat there, but they would not go out of their way to do so.
  • Said that it looked efficient.
  • They understood the queue system with no explanation provided.
  • They felt that the place was not somewhere they would consider eating “for a treat”
  • It looked cheap and bland: They would appreciate something “nice” such as a pattern or an image on the ticket.
  • Felt busy, but not intimate: Did not look very “classy”.
  • It reminded them of Argos.

The Problem

The current design suffers from looking like an Argos Queue.

  • Pro: It is efficient.
  • Con: It does not exactly scream “quality” to the customer.
  • Con: It is impersonal.
  • There is unnecessary information on the screen.
  • Con: It makes it look cluttered
  • Con: It looks more complex than it is
  • Con: There is no explanation or context provided to give it meaning

The Solution

Removing superfluous information

Perfection is achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

  • There is more information on the screen than is necessary.
  • The customer does not need to know how long other people have been waiting, and none of the other customers care. Thus they can be eliminated from the screen without loss of utility.
  • The customer has the time that they checked in printed on their ticket, and if they are curious about how long they have waited, they can always just check the current time against the time on their ticket. Thus, the check-in time on the screen adds no value.
  • The customer probably will not know that item 3 shows how long they have been waiting, so it adds no value.

Impersonal Experience

A restaurant is a fantasy-a kind of living fantasy in which diners are the most important members of the cast. –  Warner LeRoy

  • Assigning a number to someone is rather impersonal.
  • You want to make the customer feel like they are a valued patron.
  • There is nothing less personal than calling someone a number rather than a name.
  • Calling someone a number does not build a rapport or a sense of connection.

  • Efficiency does not need to be lost: When the customer checks in, the member of staff checking them in simply asks for a name, which will replace the number.

Being Appealing

Sex appeal is fifty percent what you’ve got and fifty percent what people think you’ve got. – Sophia Loren

  • Something colourful, but not garish reminds the customers of modern and customisable mobile apps rather than Argos.
  • Subtle gradients and shading make the software look more expensive (or worth more money) despite the cost increase being fairly minimal to the point of insignificance.

The Result







UX Research and Design consultancy

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