Lady In Waiting: The Art of Running a Successful Wait List 

Is there anything worse than watching a gloriously busy, beautifully booked-up week start to fall apart with last-minute cancellations?  It’s as if you’re watching your paycheck fly away.


In the hair industry, the most sought after advice tends to be: “How to Grow Your Clientele”.  However, keeping a full schedule is not all about growth and sourcing new clients.  Keeping an active Wait List is the rest of that conversation.  Once you have a great client base, a Wait List is how you make sure to stay 90-100% booked all the time.  I’m going to show you: 

  • Why a Wait List needs to be easy, accessible and quick to manage
  • How to successfully use it
  • How to work it into your verbiage when re-booking a client
  • Why I don’t charge for cancellations
  • How that “frequent cancellation” client can just live on your Wait List
  • What to do if you have a gap but you have no one on your Wait List


It doesn’t matter if you are a new hairstylist or a seasoned behind-the-chair rock star, a properly executed Wait List will help you keep your weeks fully booked.  Nobody wants a gap in their day.  Let’s dive in!

Keep It Easy

A Wait List is not useful to you if you don’t run it in a way that is easy, accessible and quick to manage.  If you use booking software like Square, Vagaro, Mindbody, etc then your Wait List shouldn’t be a piece of paper that you scribble names and dates on.  It must be integrated as part of your schedule so you can easily reference it and start pulling names from it when needed.  (*If you have a paper/pen appointment book, fret not, I’ll add a little tip for you at the end).  


How To Successfully Run a Wait List

I don’t keep a formal “List” per se, it’s more like a weekly parking spot for a couple on-deck clients.  The most important part is to keep it simple.  Here is a screenshot of my week:


As you can see, I keep my “lists” in the Monday column before my day actually starts, that way nothing is blocking any part of my work schedule, but the names are still visible to me.  


So for this week I have dropped in three blocks, one name per block.  This indicates I have 3 clients that are on the Waitlist for this week.  Each week of my schedule contains blocks just like this, the more blocks there are the more people on my Waitlist.  Easy, right? 


To book this with Square it’s called a “Personal Event”, it’s the same feature you’d use this to schedule yourself a lunch, a one-on-one meeting, a time for education, etc.  Make sure to be consistent with the location of where I put the names each week, for me they are always in the Monday morning column.  


All you really need is a few clients on your list each week to fill up any gaps if they arise.  Plus keeping a Wait List on each week is much less overwhelming than reading through 30 names lined up on a traditional Wait List.   It’s really simple.


The Wait List in Action

In the event a client cancels, I can quickly refer to the Wait List on that week and start offering that available appointment to clients from that week’s list.  Since it’s isolated to each week, it is very easy to fill the appointment with the exact client that wanted it in the first place.  Sometimes I’ll check the Wait List from the neighboring weeks to see if I can pull someone from those lists, if needed.


The most important point is: Every single week has it’s own Wait ListIf a week passes and I am unable to get those Wait List clients in, I sometimes carry them over to the next week.


Work it into your verbiage:  Let’s pretend I’m re-booking “Meredith” during checkout, and she wants to come in for a highlight and cut on January 2nd.  Nothing is available that week, so instead I would offer her the next available appointment that works for her, but the week of January 2nd I would add a block with her name and what appointment she wanted (if needed).  I would also communicate this with her like this:

  • “Unfortunately the week of January 2nd is unavailable, I can offer you (this day) instead, but I’ll make a note on the Wait List and reach out to you if something that week opens up.”


The Hustle is Real

If you are still actively building your clientele, get that Wait List going even if it just has one client on it.  Re-train your brain to stop focusing on the gaps your schedule has 2, 3, 4 weeks out, and become laser focused on the gaps your schedule has this week.   The week you are currently in is the only week that affects your take-home pay!  If someone were to cancel, who will take their spot?  You need some options on-deck.  There is nothing worse than having a beautifully booked up week only to see it all fall apart into a sea of gaps and no one to fill those spots. 


So what if you have no one on-deck, your Wait List is empty, and you have a cancellation?  The other angle is to use Social Media to post your openings.  If you don’t have enough followers, then post about your opening on a local Facebook Page in your zipcode, or tag your post on IG with your town/neighborhood/salon/service etc.  There ain’t no shame in my game, I’ve had to take to the streets (Instagram) and gather up a random client when the going gets rough:


Unfortunately, the hustle never ends, but it does get easier especially when you exercise options like an active Wait List.  You need to take ownership of your bookings, and you ability to fill gaps in the event of a cancellation.


Speaking of Cancellations

What should we do with repeat offenders?  We all have a few of these clients that just can’t seem to get their sh*t together and cancel their appointments often/last minute.  First, I recognize that some people are not great at keeping appointments.  I keep a record in their client notes and I have somewhat of a “three strikes” policy.  If they have had three cancellations in a year, and I have felt burdened by them, I will *kindly* ban them from making appointments.  


But I don’t fire them.  Instead I tell them that with their history I cannot let them schedule an appointment in advance, but they can be added to my Wait List for the week(s) they need for their future appointment.


This is not very common, currently I only have two clients that I do this with, and they are both very sweet and very apologetic about their poor time management.  They find the Wait List option a good solution for them.  Don’t get me wrong: If I have a client that is very difficult, demanding, treats me poorly, or acts like an a**hole and they are the one that cancels frequently, I just fire them.     


Do I charge for cancellations?  No, I don’t.  I have it on my salon website that I do…. but I find in practice that I get greater client retention if I exercise some restraint with that.  Afterall, life happens, I’m the one that needs a game plan to quickly fill spots if they open.



Take Home Points


Taking the time to run an active Wait List requires a little habit-forming and consistency on your part, but it is definitely worth doing.      


  • It limits the gaps in your schedule, leading to consistent revenue week over week. 


  • It reduces (or eliminates) the need to charge clients for cancellations, leading to client loyalty.


  • It gives you an alternate option for clients that are not reliable enough to book appointments ahead, so they can be on-deck for a cancellation. 


  • Plus, it really leads to long-term client satisfaction because you actively maintain your schedule and get them in if possible.  They notice that. 


Oh… Paper and pen crowd: if you actually do keep a paper appointment book, I would do this exact Wait List method I talked about above but with tiny post-its on each week so those names are right on the week they need to be: One name per post-it.  


Happy Hustling!


You may also like