Is Customer Privacy Being Compromised on Restaurant Waitlist Apps?



When customers add their name to a waitlist app for a restaurant they are agreeing to share their data.

Now these apps are more than just a system to put guests on a list for a table, they are collecting valuable data on users.

Nowait, a waitlist app that was acquired by Yelp for $40 million, was started because the founder saw the potential in an app that would offer a virtual waitlist.

Users could see what the wait is ahead of time and add their name to the list (like call-ahead seating) without stepping foot into the restaurant. Customers would then be contacted when their table was ready.

Nowait gained traction quickly in the market and had a network of over 4,000 restaurants enrolled in the system. Restaurants like Buffalo Wild Wings, Chili’s, On the Border, and Mellow Mushroom were some of the big chains using the service, which ranged from $179-249 a month.

"I thought, 'Wow, it'd be really cool if we could figure out a process where every restaurant could do this automatically,'" said Robert Myer, the founder of Nowait. "And if we had it in a database, I could publish what the wait time was ahead of time, and people could check in remotely."

We visited a Chili’s store to see how the Nowait app works. Watch the video below to see how the restaurant has had success with Nowait, to see how the app improved front-of-house operations and increased restaurant revenue. 

But the app turned into something else, a database of customer information. Even without a wait, restaurants are using waitlist systems to collect customer data.

Is this convenience of being on a waitlist worth giving away data that is then stored in a system and used to track the users?

Restaurants aren't the only businesses using these systems to collect data either.

"Supercuts now has a little kiosk, and they wanted my email address and my cell phone number to check in, and I was the only person in line," said Alastair MacTaggart, the advocate behind California's Consumer Privacy Act in a hearing in October. "The data collection has just gotten out of control."

Read more about how waitlist apps have instead become data collection systems at "Cnet."