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Callers On Hold: Maximizing the Wait Opportunity on Your Restaurant's Phones

By Julie Cook

True story: Man calls restaurant to make reservations and is placed on hold, where he hears the local radio station and a commercial for another restaurant. It sounded so good, he hangs up and decides to go there instead. Man not only enjoys a delicious meal with his wife later that evening, but begins cooking up something else of his own: A solution for restaurants and other businesses who want to keep business, not lose business, by properly using hold time to promote themselves.

Fifteen years later the concept, today called Easy On Hold, is one of the leading music and messaging on hold businesses in the country, and founder Tim Brown couldn't be happier. "I hung up the phone that afternoon thinking, that restaurant is handing over their precious hold time to their competitors, as well as every other business in their community. They're helping everyone do more business but themselves. How crazy! I knew there had to be a better way, and that's what I've devoted myself to all these years."

Considering that the average hold time in America is 43 seconds-almost the length of a radio commercial-you have a significant opportunity to tell your callers exactly what you want them to hear about you. After all they're captive, and we know from research that most callers want to hear something other than a radio station, silence, or sleepy Muzak while on hold. Not sure what an on-hold message is? Also known as music on hold, an on-hold message is typically four minutes in length. When written and produced by seasoned on-hold producers, it will feature a well-written, interesting, and balanced blend of messages about your company or organization and courtesy phrases that encourage the caller to continue holding. When read by professional announcers (voiceover talents)-not wannabe DJs--these messages are edited with music specifically licensed for this purpose.

Some organizations like to play their jingle along with their on-hold script. Others ask for spoken customer testimonials to be featured during the message. Some use their on-hold message to move product. Others prefer a soft sell or no sell. But all on-hold users agree: Keeping their callers from hanging up is the priority. The right on-hold production can accomplish all of this, and more.

Impulse Buys

A customer calls your pizza parlor at the dinner hour. You place them on hold while you take another order. While they're holding, they hear about the cheese bread special for $1.99 with any order. They weren't thinking about cheese bread when they called, but it's beginning to sound good. When you come back on the line, you take an order for pizza-and an order for cheese bread. All thanks to the power of on hold.

Basic Information

A caller needs directions to your restaurant. The staffer who answered is right in the middle of a complicated order, so the call is placed on hold while she gets some help. While on hold, your caller hears that you're 'right in front of Macy's,' which is all he/she needed anyway. She hangs up, moves on with her day, and your staffer has one less blinking light to handle.


Your restaurant has a brand new national slogan and menu and your stores have all been remodeled. You've spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on traditional media buys to enforce the new slogan. But for less than a dollar a day, every caller placed on hold will hear the slogan. Considering the average location receives more than 100 calls per week, the per-impression cost is practically zero.

Diffuse Negative Emotions

One of your customers was not happy with the service they received the evening before. When they call you, they are angry and frustrated. While the customer service rep places the caller on hold to locate your owner/manager, the caller hears contemporary music and a pleasant voice assuring the caller that "we're doing everything we can to come back to your call just as soon as possible" as well as "your satisfaction is important to us. If there's anything we can do to make your next experience with us unforgettable, please let us know." If the owner's/manager's attitude matches that of your on-hold message, your patron will feel that you truly are doing everything possible to take care of them and their concerns.

Shape Perceptions

There's nothing worse than calling a restaurant that claims to create an unforgettable experience and being placed on hold in silence-one wonders if they've been hung up on. Or worse yet, they begin to form a negative opinion about the restaurant because it appears you didn't think through every aspect of your relationship with them-in person, on the phone, and on hold. Too many restaurants miss opportunities to shape how their customers feel about them-all because they neglected their callers' on-hold experience. As you search for an on-hold messaging vendor, prices will vary dramatically. Some companies charge a monthly service fee, essentially renting the message and equipment to their customers during the business relationship. Others charge a per-message cost, giving the customer ownership of the message and the equipment with full usage rights. When shopping for on-hold messaging, ask these questions:

  • How many messages will my restaurant need over the next year? The more messages you'll need, the better packaging discounts you can expect. Some companies offer unlimited updates (including Easy On Hold) to accommodate weekly menu changes and seasonal promotions. Some businesses simply don't need to update their messages more than a few times per year if they don't have returning callers. If you have new callers on a regular basis, how will they know what the message sounded like last month? Decide who's calling you and how often they're calling, and you'll know how often to change your message.

  • Compare lengths and definition of "productions" or "messages." What one on-hold company defines as a "message," another calls a "production." This can become confusing in comparing pricing: If Company XYZ will produce 8 "messages" for you, do they mean 8 "paragraphs" or 8 four-minute, fully produced productions? If you're not careful, you may think you're walking away with more than you're actually receiving.

  • Are the voiceover talents featured on the demo or at the website the actual voices who will record my production? Don't let this happen to you: "Wow, the voice talent sounded so good on the demo. But somehow the announcer on my message sounds amateur." That's because the on-hold vendor used a demo with voiceover talents whom they don't really use in order to lure your business, then used their own voices in order to save money. They think you won't notice.

  • Is the script compelling to the caller? Some companies will pad the script with fluffy, meaningless statements that waste the caller's time. You want meaty, informative copy that can help change the caller's perceptions and even buying patterns in a positive direction.

  • The way you're treated now will have an impact on follow-up for the future. Do you receive a call back in less than 24 hours? How fast is the turnaround for your production? Does the company offer to make a free, no-obligation demo-or do you have to buy first and then trust they'll get it right? Does the company allow you to ask a lot of questions in order to educate you and establish a relationship, or are you pressured to do business with them during the first phone call?

Understanding these basic concepts will help make you an informed and savvy on-hold message buyer-and that means a better production in the end for the most important people in your life: your customers.

Julie Cook - Easy On Hold MessagingJulie Cook is President and co-founder of Easy On Hold, an on-hold messaging company serving a variety of businesses in the United States and abroad.. Founded in 1997, Easy On Hold focuses on making the on-hold experience easy, fast and affordable. Easy On Hold is the only on-hold provider that makes free, no-obligation demos for prospective customers so they can "try before they buy." Find out more at EasyOnHold.


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