How real people feel about takeout wait times

We polled customers (orderers) to find out how they react to wait times. The results were illuminating.


In the scenario, there was a 'lunch' restaurant and a 'dinner' restaurant that the customer had placed a hypothetical pickup order with.

Wait times for the order would vary in 5min increments, from 10 to 45 minutes. Respondents had to grade their reaction to each expected wait time.

Some of the choices were not just times but also included 'unexpected waiting'.

For example, a restaurant might quote a 30 minute wait time and would sometimes hit it. But at other times the actual time a customer had to wait might be 35 or 40 minutes.

Perhaps enjoying unloading some angst, people responded enthusiastically. A healthy number of complete responses (67 in all) gave us interesting and valid results, with two main points emerging.


Our survey data implied that customers have basic set-points for how long they will comfortably wait for an order.

Even though no respondent had access to the information of other participants, there was surprisingly tight agreement on the actual wait times:

– 100% of takeout lunch customers consider themselves pleased to have their order ready for pickup in about 20 minutes.

– At dinner, with perhaps a looser schedule, wait times out to 30 minutes will still please 100% of customers.

– Going over those core wait times by a little bit wasn't so bad. At 25 and 35 minute wait times, respectively, most every customer at lunch and dinner (95%) was still pleased. See the chart below.

However, adding a further 5 minutes of waiting (meaning 30 for lunch; 40 minutes at dinner) and a significant drop-off in user engagement begins. In both cases, 30% of customers would consider themselves 'displeased'.

As a guideline, our survey shows a clear sweet-spot. 20 minute ticket times at lunch and 25-30 minute ticket times at dinner result in virtually every customers being pleased. Faster performance, in either case, did not improve customer satisfaction and in some cases lowered it.


A second interesting finding was that survey respondents had strong negative reactions to impromptu or unexpected waiting. We examined this by gauging their reactions to two outcomes for a pickup order.

At restaurant #1 the given wait time for their lunch order was a hearty 40 minutes.

At restaurant #2, the given wait time for the same lunch order was 30 minutes. Though, from experience, the customer expected that sometimes that wait would stretch to 35 or 40 minutes.

Customer reactions were unequivocal - they were annoyed (or worse) by the unexpected waiting and 'punished' restaurants for it in their grading.

In restaurant #1, with the 40 minute wait time, a full 58% of customers were 'displeased' by the long wait for a lunch order.

Even so, the given wait time was in fact met - and 16% of respondents would still give the restaurant some credit and leave the premises 'somewhat pleased'.

At restaurant #2, with the variable wait time from 30-40 minutes, the numbers were much worse.

Even though the customer of restaurant #2 will most often wait less than the 40 minutes of restaurant #1, respondents from the second restaurant were 'displeased' at a rate of 84%, with only 5% of customers being 'somewhat pleased'.


We repeated this same scenario with a hypothetical dinner order.

Though the acceptable wait times were a bit longer at dinner, the difference in customer reaction to unexpected waiting time was much more negative.

At the first dinner restaurant, a 40 minute wait time that was effectively met left only 26% of customer 'displeased' while 42% remained 'very pleased' or 'somewhat pleased'.

At the second dinner restaurant, 53% of customers that had to wait between 30-40 minutes reported themselves as 'displeased'. Only 16% of customers left the experience 'very pleased' or 'somewhat pleased'.


One caveat from our poll is that we did not ask respondents to explain why they responded the way that they did.

However, the data dovetails with some common-sense expectations: People order food when they are already hungry. And they are only prepared to be hungry for so long.

Meal-ordering also ties in with the logistics of what the customer is doing, and that makes people sensitive to unexpected waiting.

For example:

– 'Lunch time' is a limited window for most people and they expect to be able to order and eat within the time they can allot to lunch.

– Dinner ordering is often part of a larger schedule. Customers frequently pick up food on their way to or from other responsibilities. Oftentimes they have people waiting for them, or for dinner.

Without exactly teasing out the reasons, our results still highlight the importance of accurate and shorter wait times to customer satisfaction.

The results also reinforce our belief that reasonably fast and consistent ticket times are fundamental to building a successful takeout business.

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