Standing outside TGI Friday's in downtown Chattanoooga on a busy Friday night, James Johnson of Atlanta knew it was going to take some time before he would be seated.
With two young children in tow, the single dad had more on his mind than dinner.
"They can get a little wild," he said of his 5-year-old twins.
But for every waiting line, there's a hard-working hostess trying to appease the growing appetites, impatient children and adults.
It's a juggling act, said Britney Bledsoe, 23, a hostess at TGI Friday's since 2008. When she notices rambunctious children, she immediately reaches under the hostess stand for kids menus and crayons.
"That way, they can color and not be rowdy," she said.
Candace Davis, marketing and public relations manager at the Chattanooga Convention & Visitors Bureau, said she gets occasional complaints from restaurant patrons saying that their waits at some local restaurants have been too long. "I see that as a good problem, though," she said. "That means people are dining at our establishments."
Olivia Scudder, 21, has been a hostess in area restaurants for several years, starting at Pastaria on Signal Mountain. She's now a hostess at Niko's Southside Grill but said she occasionally works as a server, too.
"I prefer being a hostess," she said. "Serving is really out of my comfort zone."
With years of hosting experience under her belt, she knows how to make guests comfortable. "We don't have waiting lines too often because most people make reservations," she said. "So we know how many we're expecting.
"But when we do, I try to keep things less stressful by telling them they can go to the bar and wait until their table is ready. And if they have children, there are booths in the bar that they can sit in and eat dinner in there."
First impressions mean everything to a restaurant, and that's one reason why hostesses are so important, said Jericho Michel, manager at Terminal Brewhouse on East 14th Street.
"They are the first person our guests have interaction with," he said. "They keep the guest informed about a wait if there is one and how long it will be, as well as keeping the management and kitchen informed about how busy we are."
It's not just any employee who can fill the role of host or hostess, he added. "They must be highly energetic, enjoy moving around and must enjoy people," Michel said.
Katy Carey fits the role perfectly. For the past 11 months, she has met and greeted people, preferring her position as hostess over serving food.
"I get to talk to people," she said. "And a lot of them are tourists. I like to show them the restaurant since it's so historic and tell them about Chattanooga and where to go. I get to learn a little about where they are from, too."
Many tourists bring children along, and Carey has become adept at learning how to help settle them during the wait, providing crayons and coloring pages from the kids menu.
Adult patrons can sometimes get a little unruly, too, sneaking past Carey when they see an open table. "When it happens when we're not busy, it's not a problem. I just walk over to their table, welcome them and tell them their server will be right with them.
"But when we're really busy, and it happens every weekend, I walk over and kindly explain to them that if they were in the other person's shoes waiting for a table, how would they feel? I let them know other people are waiting for that table. Most customers are understanding."
Hosts and hostesses do not receive tips directly from customers, but that doesn't bother Bledsoe too much, she said.
"Servers share their tips with us," she said. "I like being a hostess, and I enjoy meeting people from out of town and out of the country who come to Chattanooga."
Carey said she's OK with it, too. "I get paid by the hour, and every week, I get a certain percentage of sales, too. And it does add up."