A survey of 276 restaurant and food-service managers found that, when it comes to seating walk-in guests, just over half maintain a policy of seating the party that has waited the longest. About one-fifth of the respondents seated the largest waiting party and the remainder used some combination of the two approaches. With that in mind, this paper uses an extensive simulation to evaluate the relative revenue outcomes for nine rules for assigning walk-in parties to tables in restaurants, taking into account such variables as restaurant size and matching party size to the table size. I test three variants of each of the “largest party” and “longest wait” rules, along with two rules that blend largest and longest. I also include the outcome of allowing guests to seat themselves. I found that one of the blended rule using party size and waiting time performed the best across all levels of all of the experimental factors, but among the simple rules, the longest wait approach was effective in most cases. Except in the largest of restaurants, allowing guests to seat themselves is the least efficient approach.
Thompson, G. M. (2015). An evaluation of rules for assigning tables to walk-in parties in restaurants. Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, 56(1), 91-105. doi:10.1177/1938965514523120