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It’s like a parallel universe, but more efficient…

Picture this: it’s Friday night and out of nowhere it hits you: it’s time for delicious dumplings. You know just the spot, but you also know that in a time where travel tips are just a click away, there’s probably a few other people with the same thought, and it’s going to be quite a long queue for a table. Is it even worth showing up to stand around waiting for 45 minutes, or more? Enter Hong Kong, which ruined the queueing experience all over the world for me recently. Brits may raise their hands as the most expert queuers in the world, but tech has taken the Hong Kong queue game to new levels.

Queues: Real Life And Virtual At Once

You know the drill. You walk into restaurant, hear the words “at least 30 minutes”, put your name down and stand around – or bail. Frankly, 30 minutes would be a good scenario. As restaurants all over the world embrace Anthony Bourdain’s trend of “no reservations”, the perfect date night is becoming increasingly tricky. In Hong Kong however, it’s never been easier, thanks to virtual queues. Yes, you can put your name down before arriving at a restaurant and you won’t even hear a single, spiteful “tut” either.

How It All Happened, Play By Play

I was meeting a friend for lunch in Hong Kong at “Maxim’s Place”, the famous dim sum spot. We met in Tsim Sha Tsui to catch the Star Ferry over to Central at which point my total understanding of queues was turned upside down. My lunch companion noted his favorite app, Food Gulu, and how he could get us in the queue before we got there. Hang on, what? Apparently, it’s not the only one either. Open Rice is another wildly popular option with queue wizardry.

The Magic Of Internet Connections

In Hong Kong, most restaurants use ticket based queue systems where you get a number like A954. When you arrive as a walk up, you quite literally get a piece of paper with said number. But thanks to the never ending marvel known as internet connections, the machine can accept virtual tickets too. If Jane walks up to the machine at the restaurant at 8:30 and gets A954, you can join the queue in the app and snag A955, as long as no one beats you to the punch. The next person that uses the physical machine would then get A956. One queue, two methods. If you’re not in place when your ticket is called, a light grace period is allowed.

A Little Bit Of Noggin And…

If you watch the app for a few minutes, seeing roughly how quickly each ticket is being called and comparing the current ticket to be seated with the next queue ticket number available, you can create almost impeccable timing without stepping on anyones toes or even being present. My lunch companion saw that there were 20 tickets in the queue ahead of us, and each was being processed in about a minutes time, and therefore the 19 minutes it would take for us to arrive off the ferry could be magical. We walked into the lobby to hear the number two before ours being called, and within a minute we were seated.

Why It Works So Well

OpenTable should buy this for the collective benefit of the world. This queue system isn’t in every single Hong Kong restaurant, but you’ll find it in an overwhelming amount and that’s why it works so well. The world needs Hong Kong’s restaurant queue system, but it’s just hard to imagine a day, without intervention of a major player like OpenTable or UberEats when 90% of the collective restaurants in Manhattan, Sydney, Sao Paulo, Mumbai or Paris agree on a simple system to use. Returning from Hong Kong and going back to forming an orderly analog queue, and waiting in the freezing cold for a table, knowing that in Hong Kong I’d have joined the queue 30 minutes before I arrived has ruined me.

Featured image courtesy of John Anthony Hong Kong.

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