robbin arcega

Yelp Waitlist

Yelp, 2019
My Responsibilities

UX research, UX writing, sketching, prototyping in Marvel, polishing in Sketch, handoff.

Key Outcomes

Increase of Yelp Waitlist usage and overall Yelp users through relevant, fine-tuned content.

Timeline & Team

3 sprints (UX discovery, ideation, handoff) with product management, engineering, and UXR teams.


The Yelp Waitlist is a restaurant feature that can be accessed via a physical kiosk, or through the Yelp app, to join a waitlist.

The problem

How might we help diners feel safe about their waitlist status so that they can make informed decisions to figure out what to do while waiting?

The Solution we explored

For the final product, we added a "parties ahead of you" feature to the "place in line" screen.

Understanding the problem

One of the hardest things about working for a well-known company like Yelp is that it is extremely easy to fall into the trap of designing for ourselves by accident. After all, the entire team had joined a waitlist at least once.

However, this meant that we could create a relatively simple hypothesis to test: if diners on the waitlist had more information about the contents of the waitlist, then they will feel they are able to do other things while waiting.

To understand how waitlisted diners interact with their environment, we compiled our existing Yelp research and added our own user interviews to create a customer journey map, which allowed us to see pain points holistically.

An example of a customer journey map
A customer journey map (scaled down on purpose...NDA, sorry!)

Synthesizing what we learned

Some questions we needed answers to

  1. What information is necessary to know whilst waiting in line?
  2. Based on the above, what information would make people less stressed about waiting in line?
  3. Aside from getting into the restaurant, what is the immediate goal of the waitlisted diner?

Incorporating the status quo

For reference, the status quo only showed 1) when one's party joined, 2) when they should get back to the restaurant, and 3) a way to cancel their queue position.

Ideating and testing our hypothesis

Sketch 'em up

Armed with a primer on the psychology of waiting and a week left in the sprint, we decided that we should have users review a variety of low-fidelity sketches to get early feedback.

We had initially invited users to the office for to strengthen our user research for the customer journey map, but we agreed that we'd spend the last 10 minutes having them take a look at the sketches.

It turned out quite well, as we received enough feedback to iterate the designs into a high-fidelity mock.

Content comes into play

One of the most interesting things we uncovered is that our interviewees were generally comfortable with seeing their names written down on a physical piece of paper for a waitlist. When placed in a digital setting, though, it's understandable that privacy became an issue. "Who else could see my name?" was a common question.

Luckily, the visual design was simple enough that my PM and I went to work on the UX writing. What information was necessary? What is the best way to display that information?

Working with another product designer at a whiteboard, the three of us got into some interesting explorations. Some of them involved food emojis.

Key performance metrics

As an addition to the existing place in line screen, we wanted to see if people interacted with the new feature. This was after observing people waiting for a table, looking up every few minutes to see if their name had been called (and the people physically getting up to look at the paper list).

We hypothesized that having more information would increase trust with the Yelp Waitlist feature, and increase the usage. (Actual numbers not shared due to NDA, sorry!)


An unexpected benefit of this project was the customer journey map. I was able to request a full sprint to flesh it out, allowing our team to make more informed decisions about which design tasks to prioritize for the next quarter.

Although the project was not heavy on visuals, going through the motions of doing the research strengthened trust between product design and product management. Utilizing user research was relatively new at Yelp, so being able to work together and see how it affected design was crucial to our success as a team, and the product as a whole.

Thanks for reading!

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View the next case study: Yelp Nowait →