robbin arcega

Yelp Nowait

Yelp, 2019
Nowait concept
Nowait tablet app concept (shift assignments function shipped)
My Responsibilities

End to end design, generative research, ideation, prototype testing, UX strategy, onboarding

Key Outcomes

Create a new feature to reduce churn without sacrificing usability or current efficiency

Timeline & Team

3 months with product management, engineering, and account management


Yelp acquired Nowait, a front-of-house restaurant app, in 2017. The app allows restaurants to assign diners to tables, and manage diners on the waitlist. Diners can waitlist remotely through Yelp, or join through physical kiosks.

The problem

Whenever restaurants have to switch shifts with Nowait (i.e., opening, mid, closing shifts), it has to stop taking customers for up to 20 minutes to re-assign all tables and servers. How might we make this shift change process more efficient for front-of-house (FOH) staff?

The Solution we explored

We created the "shift assignments" feature, which allows restaurants to save both section and server settings. This way, the opening shift would create all their shifts in the morning, and FOH staff would go through the "Load a Layout" flow as they do currently.

Understanding the problem

Our team originally received this design request in the form of a solution: "Create AM/PM floor maps". There was no reasoning behind this except that it had been a feature request for the last two years, and no research had been done to under the restaurants' pain points around this task. I'll talk about this in the next section.

Status Quo

The Nowait app was originally built to make instantaneous changes; restaurants are seen as thriving when there's constant turnover of tables. The only thing that can be saved is a layout that divides groups of tables into sections. This allows servers to see exactly which section they should be serving.

Currently, to switch to a new section configuration, the flow is:

Rinse and repeat for each server

Research, Part I: What we learned

Understanding the audience

Our design team of two was split between two cities: San Francisco and Chicago. We set out to interview hosts, restaurant managers, and other related FOH jobs. This audience was composed of people who had screen time with the Nowait app on a daily basis (i.e., regional training managers were not included in this round of research).

We validated that restaurant shifts weren't as simple as a AM shift and a PM shift: there were "swing" shifts in the middle, often given to more experienced servers. These servers would be affected the most, as their sections would remain the same (in case the diners they were serving haven't finished eating) or have fewer tables (as new servers come in).

Working with Constraints

Originally, this was meant to be a two-week, straightforward project. After finding the problem was much larger than expected, we expanded the research and ideation time to include generative research, ideation, and user testing.

We also had to keep in mind that all changes made to the Nowait app would affect all restaurants, not just mid-sized ones. Regardless of the solution we chased, we had to make sure it wouldn't negatively affect the smaller or more massive restaurants.

Cross-team (and region) collaboration

The Miro-cle of collaboration

The design team utilized Miro and Google Hangouts to keep our ideas in sync. The Chicagoan was ahead a few hours, so it was imperative to keep the board and our working document clean. This included, but was not limited to, low-fidelity sketches, sharing research synthesis, and exploring mid- and high-fidelity wireframes.

In addition to the other half of the design team being remote, our account managers were also in different states across the country. As the main point people between restaurants and Yelp, they were a critical piece of the puzzle, playing an enormous role in helping us empathize with the restauranteurs.

Research, Part II: User testing

After exploring a few low-fi concepts, we ran two major rounds of user testing, with gut-check testing in between (see: we went to Nowait restaurants nearby with sketches and prototypes we had to see if we were on the right track).

User testing, round 1: Shift Assignments as a tab

By this point, we had started referring to the project as "Shift Assignments" instead of "AM/PM floor maps". In this concept, we tested a prototype that utilized a separate tab to create shifts, which acted as a schedule for servers. While it certainly wasn't a perfect solution, account managers were drawn to it and wanted us to test it.

This round of testing was cut off abruptly when we learned that adding a new tab wouldn't be technically feasible. More tabs were to be added to the Nowait screen, and there would simply be no room for another one. So, we went back to the drawing board.

User testing, Round 2: Adding shift assignments to "load a layout"

Background story: After opening up the discussion to our full design team, we talked about the merits and demerits of not utilizing the tab feature. We had the hypothesis that having a separate tab would help create a better overall design; I had done a heuristic evaluation on the Nowait app prior to this project and felt it wasn't designed well. In general, there was an agreement that many aspects of the Nowait app promoted bad design, which forced users to create workarounds.

We tested this with mid-sized restaurants via video call. It was utterly satisfying to hear, "Yeah, this is exactly what we were looking for!" from one of the regional trainers. Score!

The solution we explored

This time, we went for a solution that nestled into the current workflow that mid-sized restaurants seemed to follow in general:

Current shift change task flow (number of taps for "assign server" depends on number of servers for each shift)

In the updated task flow, FOH staffers would have the same task flow with a slight difference, in that it drastically decreases the number of taps, thanks to the ability for the morning shift to save servers and sections:

Updated shift change task flow — way shorter!


There's a time in a product's lifespan where the product team wishes they could revamp the entire thing, only to realize that such a feat is well out of scope. With the goal of helping FOH staff make the shift changes without having to tap dozens of times to assign new servers, we incorporated a solution into their current user flow.

At the end of the day, having worked at a restaurant, I reiterated quotes we had heard from FOH staff. When it came to devices, workarounds were inevitable. The truth of the matter was, bad design or not, servers and trainers had already engrained themselves in their personal user flows. Making an abrupt change would actually decrease efficiency, since trainers would have to start all over again and un-train the learned behaviors out of their employees. One day we'd want to do a full Nowait revamp, but that was well out of scope, and we had to accept this for now.

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