Most of us hate waiting, we despise it, we avoid it at all costs. This is not a restaurant review—this is an observation of how a restaurant can craft such an experience that the wait to get in is worthwhile and embraced. While most businesses attempt to eliminate lines and the wait altogether, they’ve earned their waiting list.
Here in Savannah, I would constantly drive by a street where I would see a line of people stretching down the street and around the corner. My brother and I would always see this line day after day, but we never knew what it was for. We always wondered, what is this place and why is it so popular that people are willing to line up and wait for it?
Finally, after months of seeing this line piling up every single day, I took to the internet to see what all the fuss was about. We had figured it was for a restaurant, but how come we had never heard of it or seen it before? While searching for the place online, I discovered that the queue was for Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room.
“A line gathers each morning at 107 West Jones Street,” their website reads. “At 11 o’clock, the doors of 107 open and the lunch crowd finds seats at one of the large tables-for-ten shared by strangers. Tabletops are crowded with platters of fried chicken and cornbread dressing, sweet potato souffle, black-eyed peas, okra gumbo, corn muffins and biscuits. The menu changes daily so regulars can have something different every day. Stop by and enjoy the special pleasure of a meal shared with neighbors and strangers.”
Mrs. Wilkes epitomizes the South through its food, history, and hospitality. “Most Southern towns used to boast a boardinghouse where you could find a simple, quiet room and a communal dining room that offered at least two hearty meals a day. Boardinghouse food was de rigueur daily fare for locals, among them young, working class laborers, school teachers, bankers, washerwomen and middle-class merchants alike.”
In 1943, Sema Wilkes began to help out the boarding house’s kitchen where her late husband, Lois H. Wilkes, was staying. This part-time endeavor soon became a thriving business, and during the 60s was ingrained into Savannah’s historic downtown presence. Everyone knew about Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room, and her reputation was built entirely on word-of-mouth. It wasn’t until 1987 that Mrs. Wilkes gave her consent to put a sign out front.
Tomorrow, another line will be waiting outside of Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room. Those who get in line seldom get back out because wanting to get into line in the first place requires a commitment. Although, I was curious as to how others actually felt about the line, and so I decided to check out some reviews for Mrs. Wilkes online. Here’s what some people had to say:
“As someone who doesn’t mind lines, I had a great time waiting except for the ridiculous Georgia heat. We met some other great people in line which we ended up sitting with so it was nice to socialize a bit before our feast.”
“When we saw the line outside we knew it was a good thing. Amazing food and ambiance. Will always remember my experience there.”
“The communal tables create an experience to remember. The ‘boarding house’ style seating makes it so no one around you is a stranger for long. On my second trip to Mrs. Wilkes I sat next to someone from my hometown which is a thousand miles from Savannah…small world. That probably wouldn’t have happened with normal seating.”
“Lines are long, but well worth the experience.”
On TripAdvisor, you can see that over 2,000 people have given it 5 stars. Thousands of people are not simply putting up with the wait, they’re embracing it. They see it as a part of the experience. Every single one of those people will tell you it’s worth it.
Thus, there are rarely any negative reviews, and that’s because they don’t cater towards those people. Negative Nancys aren’t willing to sit in line. Only those who are able to recognize that the wait is worthwhile are willing to wait, and so they’re taking impatient people out of their target audience. They’re already getting rid of the rude people.
You can’t reserve a spot, and you can’t pay extra to skip ahead. The wait is a part of the experience. You have to be dedicated to go; you have to be committed. You have to want it badly enough because you join an exclusive group when you choose to wait. You have a story to tell. You earn bragging rights.
Waiting is an accomplishment in and of itself. Consider those who wait outside of game stores even after they pre-ordered the game. Or those who wait outside of the Apple store to get a new iPhone. Or those who wait outside of the mall overnight for Black Friday sales. The difference with Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room is that they aren’t discounting anything, they aren’t offering anything new, all they’re doing is delivering quality food and service day after day. They’ve earned the line that waits outside of their door every morning. They make the wait a part of the experience. They’ve made the wait worthwhile.
Waiting doesn’t have to be a negative experience nor does it have to have a negative connotation attached to it. Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room is only open Monday through Friday, 11am to 2pm, costs $20 per person (cash only), bunches of people are sat 10 at a time, and there are no menus. Mrs. Wilkes gets straight to the point, it’s not just about good southern food, they’re about connecting people.
Do you have a line of people waiting for your services? Perhaps you’re falling into the trap of wanting to eliminate lines altogether and so you’re serving the people you shouldn’t be—the rude and impatient people that aren’t deserving of your time. Consider the kind of people you want to be working with—those who know they want to work with you, and then only let those kinds of people in line.