# Sequential vs. Arbitrary order numbers

When ordering food at a restaurant where you make an order, take a number, then your order gets called when it's ready, the numbers are typically implemented in one of two ways

1. Give each customer the next available number.
2. Use a system for generating arbitrary, but unique numbers to give to a customer

What are the benefits of each? To me it seems like the sequential numbers makes the most sense. Because you can, as the customer, make an estimation of how much longer it's going to take until you get your food.

Is there a benefit for the second system? I've been seeing it increasingly often lately, and I'm wondering what the reasoning is for it.

• Sometimes part of the number indicates which cash register they ordered from (if there's more than one cash register) – so, 100–199 are on cash register 1, 200–299 are on cash register 2, etc. Commented Mar 31, 2017 at 1:12

Sequential numbering has its limitations, especially regarding the expectations from Customers:

"I have 92. Why is order 96 served before mine?"

They do, and they do not understand why it works like this (the one that is ready first is served first).

On the other hand, random numbers may lead to total confusion, because people got used to those sequential numbering:

"Wait a minute, my number is 92, and they still serve 57! And 98, but I am sure no one ordered after I did. Come on, what is going on here?" – they might have this kind of confusion.

To make the random character of numbering obvious, you would need to go for more complex sequences, for example: RH52Q3, or split it: ABG-638, but still, in any case the identifiers would become more complex and they would find themselves looking at the monitor and say:

"Was ABG-638 mine or was it AGF-483? Wait a minute..."

My idea about how to solve this would be using emotional design. Why don't you create a dictionary of names, such as e.g.:

• Blue Orchid
• Beautiful Sunset
• Savage Animal
• etc.

This way, you would escape the burden of having stone-cold numbers.

• Or your name as some cafeterias do :) Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 16:07
• Yeah! Even easier, but (namely for fast foods) with long queues some names may repeat. And then you would have either "John 3" or three "Johns". Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 16:10
• Or you could build some more emotions based on it: "John the Third". Especially applicable for Burger King. Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 16:11
• This is a good answer, you proposed something I've never heard of that would be interesting. I reckon the issue with that is that the people calling out the numbers would be fumbling the words if they have to call these out all day Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 17:11
• Maybe, but it may depend on if and how you build the story behind it ;) Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 17:21

While the first system seems logical and, as you pointed out, gives the customer the capability to estimate how long it takes for their order to be prepared, the second system does quite opposite - forbids the customer from any assumptions.

Imagine there are like 10 orders before yours and each order takes about 5 minutes. What would be your reaction after doing maths on the expected waiting time? Not knowing this information sets you in the mood of "perhaps mine is next?" - far more positive, whereas the actual situation might be exactly the same.

If customer A made order 1 that will require a long time, but customer C (which ordered after A) made a very simple order 3 that will be served before A, then the sequential order is broken.

Calling order 3 will make customer A wonder if he missed his order and, after realising he didn't, why customer C got his order before him.