You know all about hold times in the kitchen, but there’s another “hold time” you should pay attention to—the time customers wait on hold when they call your establishment.

Ask a Customer’s Permission

If you’re waiting on a live customer, and you’re also responsible for answering the phone, always ask the live customer for their permission to answer the phone. If they permit you to answer the phone, then follow these tips for placing a caller on hold from Rich Kizer and Georganne Bender of Kizer and Bender Speaking! in an article for “Smart Retailer.” “Your goal should be to avoid placing callers on hold, but when you have to, always, always, always ask their permission first.” If the caller agrees to be put on hold, 60 seconds should be the max. If the caller can’t hold, offer to take their name and number and then call them back within an agreed upon time frame. It may be a good idea to add a friendly, upbeat staff member to handle the phones during peak times.

Consider Using an Online Reservation Service

Another way to reduce phone traffic and improve your customers’ experience is to use an online reservation service, such as OpenTable. This allows your customers make their own reservations from your website or Facebook page. According to OpenTable’s website, “Only 4 out of 9 customers complete their reservation when put on hold or sent to voicemail.” It’s also a good idea to use your on hold messages to answer the questions you get all the time, like whether or not you take credit cards, the best place to park, and your hours. If you use a service such as OpenTable for reservations, put that on your on hold message too. That will allow the caller can choose to wait on hold, or hang up and make their reservation online.

Have Effective On Hold Messages

When it is necessary to put a caller on hold, it’s important to create a comfortable environment for the caller. A study done by the North American Telecommunications Association showed that what the caller hears on hold affects how long the caller holds the line. The study revealed that callers hang up the fastest during dead silence. Callers will hold about 30 seconds when they hear music. Keep callers on the line up to 3 minutes by playing music with information.

The best on hold messages educate callers about your hidden services. If you’re famous for your burgers, but no one seems to know that you cater, then by all means be sure to promote your catering services to callers on hold.

Most on hold messages don’t start at the beginning. Instead the message is constantly playing in a loop and the callers drop in and start listening at random points in the message. Because of this, it’s important that each sentence tells a whole story, and keep the words and sentences short and simple.

Keep It Informative and Dynamic

Having more than one voice on the recording adds depth and makes the time go even faster. Also, changing the music and the announcers when you change the recording helps regular callers know there’s a fresh message on hold playing. How often you change your on hold message depends on a variety of factors, including how often the same people call in, whether or not you’re adding or dropping services or items, if you’re getting sponsorships from your suppliers, if your business is affected by seasonal changes, and any events you want to promote.

Share your menu, website, and other promotional information with your customers on hold. This will give them a feel for the culture of your establishment and a well written on hold script will help reinforce your other marketing efforts and promote your image. A good message will make mention of your Facebook page, Twitter feed, UrbanSpoon, Yelp, TripAdvisor and other places where you have a presence to get to know your establishment.

Choose the Right On Hold Message Provider

When you’re shopping for an on hold message provider, hire one that writes the script for you, uses professional announcers, and properly licensed music. Properly licensed music doesn’t carry any additional fees outside of your agreement with your on hold message provider. Generally properly-licensed music is produced by an artist or music studio, not a pop or rock star. The on hold provider buys the rights to use the music for an unlimited time in their productions.

Even if you don’t have a fancy telephone system, today’s technology can help you achieve a more professional and efficient telephone image. A good on hold message provider will be able to help you figure out what additional equipment or services, if any, are needed to get a customized on hold recording playing to your callers on hold.

Generally speaking, on hold providers offer different levels of service for different prices. Most offer unlimited, monthly, quarterly, or single recordings. Some offer reminders to change the messages along with helpful seasonal suggestions.

Prices for quarterly changes can be as low as $35 a month, while a single recording shouldn’t cost more than $300, including script writing, professional announcing, properly-licensed music and delivering your recording to you in a format you can use. Some providers offer a small charge to make minor changes to your “as needed” recording, instead of charging the single recording fee all over again.

On hold messaging can be a great addition to your marketing program, increasing sales while at the same time letting your customers know their time is valued, even when they are put on hold. And if you choose the right on hold message provider, you won’t have to put a lot of time into creating your own custom on hold message.

About the author: Sandra Williams founded Ideas On Hold, Inc. in 1989 and has been serving Foodservice Distributors and other businesses with on hold messages ever since. Ideas On Hold, Inc. is a SPARK partner.


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