Dining math


When I travel, my days are usually pretty hectic. Even with everything planned out in advance, there’s no way to predict when meetings will run long or you’ll get stuck in a line at the security checkpoint. Typically, these events mean that you’ll have to rush a little more on your way to the gate — or in some cases, run the whole way. With this in mind, it’s nice to have a relaxing meal in the airport when time permits. But there’s one problem: how do you know how long the meal is going to take?

Outside of airports, I have seen a few places that mark certain items on the menu as being a “Quick Lunch” or something similar, indicating they can be delivered to your table in say 15 minutes or less. This is probably most common in places that cater heavily to people on their lunch break. And while some airport restaurants might have the same info on their menu, they’re missing the bigger picture. When people are choosing where to eat in the airport, they need to know how long the total meal takes on the average, not just the food preparation times.

To capture as many travelers as possible, restaurants should provide a sign right at the entrance, before you even ask for a table. Sort of like the signs with wait times for each ride in Universal Studios, the restaurant sign would first say how long the current wait is. Then, it would tell you how long it takes on average to get your meal. Finally, it would provide a reasonable estimate of the time required to eat it and pay the bill. Of course, restaurant staff would have to change the first two items during the day, since the times will be longer during peak periods. The sign could even be electronic, providing a total time estimate on the fly.

So, the next time you need a place to eat before hopping on a flight, you could refer to the sign that says: “The current wait is 10 minutes, we’re averaging about 20 minutes to bring your food, and most people need about 30 minutes to eat and get out the door.” In this example, if you didn’t have at least 60 minutes before boarding, you would know to look for a faster option. By taking away the uncertainty, I think this approach would bring significantly more customers into airport eateries. Really, how could it not? A lot of people see a sit-down meal at the airport as a way to unwind during an otherwise hectic day, and the last thing you need is to be rushed and nervous about making your flight because you’re stuck in a restaurant.

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