published Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

Table on Cue: Restaurant waiting easier with new computer app

Bo Ferger, right, CEO of QuickCue, and Jeff Cole, vice president of marketing, together created an app for restaurants and their patrons. Their plan is to distribute the app to fast casual restaurants which can then take better care of customers' specific needs like their fine dining counterparts.
Bo Ferger, right, CEO of QuickCue, and Jeff Cole, vice president of marketing, together created an app for restaurants and their patrons. Their plan is to distribute the app to fast casual restaurants which can then take better care of customers' specific needs like their fine dining counterparts.
Photo by Tim Barber.

RESTAURANTS WITH QUICKCUE

• Alleia

• Blue Plate

• Bluewater Grille

• Chato Brasserie

• Chop House

• El Meson Mexican Restaurant

• Hennen’s

• Mellow Mushroom, Hamilton Place

• Sticky Fingers at Hamilton Place

• The Terminal

Source: Quickcue

For many diners, the worst part about going out to eat on a Friday is the wait.

It can be especially hard for active types to sit on lobby benches and wait -- or worse, stand outside watching others through the windows as they merrily enjoy a sumptuous meal.

But relief could be at hand. Or more specifically, in pocket.

A group of Chattanooga-area developers say that Quickcue, which was just approved for sale on the Apple App store, turns a long line from a frustration into an opportunity.

"It does a particularly good job with wait times and reservations," said Bo Ferger, CEO of Quickcue. "We are attempting to take some of the relational things customers are enjoying in fine dining and push those to a more casual dining segment."

Quickcue first appeared during Chattanooga's 48-hour launch, a fast-track incubation event designed to bring good ideas together with investors.

Funded by Lex Tarumianz through his Chattanooga-based investment group Blank Slate Ventures, the project has picked up steam and moved into the former Medium offices on Main Street.

"Based on Apple's track record, the app will be available in less than a week," Ferger said.

A number of local restaurants already are trying out a pre-release copy of Quickcue.

Almost a dozen, including Blue Plate, Bluewater, Chato Brasserie, Hennen's, Mellow Mushroom, Sticky Fingers and The Terminal, are experimenting with the next generation of customer management, officials say.

"Our market is the large casual and upscale casual restaurants," Ferger said. "Our ultimate goal is to be the market leader."

What's the big deal?

The way the system works is simple: a hostess operating Quickcue's iPad-based software adds a guest's phone number and party size to a swipeable wait list, and assigns him an estimated wait time.

So far, not too unusual.

"Most people are used to waiting there at the door instead of being given freedom," said Jesse Taylor, general manager of Mellow Mushroom at Hamilton Place.

But instead of waiting in the lobby, the guest with a cellphone instead can explore the city, find a bar somewhere or go shopping.

That's the key -- transforming dining into a liberating experience instead of time-out.

When it's time to sit down, a series of interactive text messages notify the guest and confirm the reservation. Patrons can even text back to see their status and wait time, or cancel their reservation if they want to go somewhere else.

"It promotes extreme organization when it comes to being able to get tables seated quickly," said Brenda McConathy, general manager of Sticky Fingers at Hamilton Place.

It doesn't stop there. Through tags and notes, a host or manager can record guest preferences about drink orders or food allergies, allowing the kitchen to get ready for what's coming. VIPs can be marked as such and treated accordingly.

"We can treat each guest the way they want to be treated," McConathy said. "If they have special needs, if they have a table or booth, are first-time visitors or have food allergies, we can note that in the system so we can tell the server when they're seated."

Of course, it's a new system for some staff members, so there's a learning curve, said Chris Casteel, partner and general manager of Chato Brasserie.

"We think it's got great capabilities," Casteel said. "It's definitely different than what we're used to, so trying to train the staff and such takes some time to figure out a completely new system."

But taking a minute to study the intuitive iPad app is worth it, said Jeff Cole, vice president of marketing and business development at Quickcue.

When used properly, the software can remember guest experiences, display analytics for the manager, and even measure kitchen staff response time, he said.

If your surf and turf was dry and overcooked, the software reminds the kitchen to take extra care next time you come.

"Table notification is the first point of contact with the guest," Cole said. "If it's done in an elegant and nonintrusive way, it can set up the tone for what the evening is going to be like."

about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

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