When the restaurant industry used to talk about guest management systems, that typically meant paper waitlists and buzzer devices designed to systematically track potential diners. While these methods were somewhat effective, they were static in their approach and failed to capture key business metrics based on diner loyalty, order history or the amount of in-store dollars spent.

Today, guest management systems have evolved to software applications that can run on several operating systems and interact and engage with restaurant guests on a much deeper level. This two-way interaction means guests wait less and, depending on the technology, are tracked throughout their dining experience based on their phone number.

Based on user survey results, restaurant operators who have used an app-based guest management system reported the following statistics:

• Time savings in table turns averaging three minutes a table;
• 16 percent improvement in waitlist retention, preventing customer walk away; and
• 6 percent improvement in ticket flow through the kitchen.

In addition to these savings, there was another surprising result from the survey: no more lost pagers. Operators reported an average of two pagers lost per month. At $100 per pager, that adds up quickly over the course of the year. With the waitstaff using these apps on their own smartphones, the missing pager problem completely vanishes.

What these numbers show is that guest management technology is giving restaurant operators increased ability to manage the guest experience and improve overall operational efficiencies because customers are being seated faster. This also equates to order information going through to the kitchen faster, thus increasing table turns.

The ability to integrate front-of-house and back-of-house metrics, as well as provide restaurant operators with an inside look at how the technology is streamlining operations, makes the evolution of these systems that much more exciting.

The cloud has undoubtedly contributed to this evolution. Now all it takes is one person and one time to key in your customer's mobile phone number. With this simple piece of data, a full range of customer information immediately becomes available and integrated for future tracking. Who are they so our waitstaff can greet them by name? When did they last visit? What did they order? How much did they spend? Were they satisfied?

Once the front and front and back of house are connected, the point of sale system becomes another tool that can be used to track customer loyalty and rewards programs based on their phone number. This enables operators to customize coupon and other marketing campaigns directly to the customer they're trying to reach. This translates to better service, since customers are recognized as valued guests each time they walk through the door.

The technology enabling this customization can display a message next to each phone number that provides the staff with pertinent information, such as the last time the customer came in and their menu preferences. That way, restaurant staff can recommend specials and loyalty coupons because they have your customer preferences right at their fingertips.

Prior to smartphones, a majority of this information would walk out the door with your customers. Smartphones enable and encourage increased customer interaction at the door. And a two-way communication system gives your staff additional messaging touch points.

Guest management app technology is paving the way for additional operational breakthroughs and will continue to do so as it starts to integrate with other systems within your restaurant. Operators will be presented with richer views of who their customers are and how they interact with their brand. Unlike social media tracking, the information presented is based on what occurs once they get inside your restaurant.

Craig Walker is the founder and c.e.o. of NoshList, a free waitlist app available on iPad, iPhone, iPod and Android mobile devices.