Line management

Upmarket leather goods-maker Goyard has a compact store in Mayfair’s Mount Street that always has a queue outside snaking down the road. This isn’t simply down to the store’s popularity with global fashionistas, it’s also due to Goyard’s policy that only allows the same number of people into its store as there are employees on the shop floor. This ensures each customer receives one-to-one service but with the downside they have to queue for the privilege.

Goyard: Queuing is obligatory

Goyard’s products are too expensive for my taste but I would fail to make it over the threshold anyway due to my aversion to queuing. I find it difficult to wait for a coffee if it looks as though the preparation time will be anything more than a couple of minutes. Of course I’ll accept having to wait for certain things, such as seeing my overstretched doctor, but I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in finding standing in line for food and drink a waste of my time.  

This has put me in a frustrating position over the years because many of the more highly rated and cutting edge operators inevitably seem to have a queue outside their premises or food stall/truck. Nowadays it seems anything half decent comes with a waiting time attached. At last week’s Propel Leadership Summit there was a definite theme among the successful presenters – lengthy queues outside their premises.

The founders of Dishoom, The Breakfast Club and Farmer J all said it was great to be so popular they generated long queues outside their restaurants. However, they equally recognised the negative impact on the overall service their customers might receive.

Dishoom: Queuing is inevitable

Each of those operators, along with other serious queue-generators such as Padella and Kricket, have vastly differing propositions and venue sizes and each deals with queues in their own way. With today’s technology it’s possible to operate virtual queuing systems such as WalkIn, which is used by Kricket and The Breakfast Club among others. The app messages customers when a table becomes available, which enables diners to have a drink elsewhere while they wait. 

The owners of popular Soho restaurant The Palomar recognised this scenario as a missed opportunity, leading them to take on The Blue Posts pub two doors down so they can direct waiting customers to the pub or its upstairs cocktail bar while they wait for a table.

The owners of South African restaurant Kudu took a similar approach because their 37-cover south London restaurant is fully booked most nights of the week and tables are turned once during a service. To accommodate waiting customers they opened cocktail bar Smokey Kudu a hop, skip and a jump from the restaurant. The Kricket team has also expressed an interest in taking on a wet-led venue to support its massively popular Soho restaurant.

Clearly these operators are clever at generating extra revenue and, no doubt, goodwill from customers by handling their popularity in this way. Obviously finding an available unit nearby is no small matter in major cities such as London so perhaps there’s an opportunity for restaurants to collaborate with nearby pubs and bars by striking a deal that is economically beneficial to both parties. I’ve yet to see any examples of such partnerships but it seems an eminently creative and sensible approach.

Smokey Kudu: first the restaurant, then the bar

All operators lucky enough to generate queues should consider such solutions because I can’t help but feel that any place with a perennial line outside has failed to consider their customers’ overall experience. Perhaps they feel good about the queues – it’s visible proof to backers and prospective customers they are running extremely successful joints. 
However, we all know popularity can be fleeting so it might be a good idea for today’s most popular operators to look after their customers a bit more before someone new comes along and steals their queue.

Glynn Davis, editor of Retail Insider

This piece was originally published on Propel Info where Glynn Davis writes a regular Friday opinion piece. Retail Insider would like to thank Propel for allowing the reproduction of this column.