When sales are flagging, restaurant owners tend to go into overdrive: they will try almost every trick in the book to reverse this trend as fast as possible, by cutting costs, getting tough with their staff or making last-ditch efforts to promote their least profitable products.
But while some of these short-term strategies might give your revenue a temporary boost, they won’t carry your business through tough times, you’ll need to plan ahead. One of the most effective long-term approaches to keep your restaurant profitable is to work on improving your table turnover rate, as it allows you to bring in more revenue by focusing on better business practices, without requiring big investments.
The key to improving table turnover rate is to hide the process from your customers and let the magic happen behind the scenes ー you don’t want to be that rude restaurant manager who tries to make a profit at the expense of treating your customers well, people don’t like to be rushed when they’re having a good time. Make sure to follow the tips below, and you’ll start earning more for each table in no time, without losing your reputation as a top-of-the-line restaurateur!
Start by calculating your turnover rate
We’ll have to start by doing a little bit of math, but the good news is that today is the day when you will figure out exactly how much money you make per table. Where to start?
- Select the period of the day when you will be measuring. We recommend you start by analyzing your periods with highest levels of occupancy, such as lunch or dinner, as these the time when bottlenecks are most likely to occur, and when you might be losing out on potential customers.
- Count the number of parties you seated over that period of time. Pay attention to how long it takes your bussers to clean up a table, how long your customers have to wait before getting the bill, and how long before they can place their orders, as these factors will be determining how well you perform in this test.
- Now, divide the number of parties you served by the number of tables you have in your restaurant. For example, if you have 10 tables and you served 30 parties over the lunch hour, then you’re turning 3 tables per hour.
- Finally, have a look at how much money you made for that period, and you’ll be able to get an idea of what you stand to gain by raising your table turnover rate to 4 tables per hour, for example (obviously, there’s a limit to how high this number can go, which will also depend on whether your restaurant is quick service, or a fine dining establishment).
If your profits are low, then working to improve your table turnover rate is a must. If your restaurant is doing reasonably well, you might still stand to gain something by following these tips, but keep in mind that if you want to improve on an already successful business model, you should avoid making any changes that might work against your brand concept.
Create the right atmosphere
One of the easiest changes you can apply is to experiment with your playlist. Yep, that’s right, according to a study from Fairfield University, something as simple as playing faster (and louder) music, makes customers chew their food significantly faster! Obviously, you don’t want to turn your restaurant into a rave, but choosing a few upbeat tracks might just get your customers in and out the door faster.
Something you might also want to consider, if you’re planning to open a new location, or if you’re going to redecorate your restaurant, is to choose a design that contributes to the efficiency of your business. A professor from Cornell University found that customers spend more time seated per meal if they’re sitting in a booth, so if you want to make your service more fast-paced, fill your restaurant with free-standing tables. But beware: customers at booths were also found to spend slightly more per minute than their counterparts, so you might want to consider a mixed seating plan.
Reduce prep time
This one might seem quite obvious, and you might be asking yourself: Haven’t I already taken every possible step to reduce prep time? If your chefs are having to chop too many veggies on the spot, and your menu is 15 pages long, the answer might be no.
Pre-portion as much as you can
Focus especially on your top-selling items. You won’t want to prep too much food if it’s going to go stale fast, but you might be missing out on some key ingredients that are going to be in high demand. You can make a rough estimate based on your recipes and the demand for each dish, or alternatively, you can use inventory management software to make accurate predictions of how much of each ingredient you’ll need at any given time.
Design your menu for efficiency
Again, here you should focus on the popularity of each item on the menu. While customers often enjoy having a large variety of dishes to choose from, it’s probably not doing your prep times any favors, it will increase the amount of time it takes your customers to place an order, and it’s unlikely to encourage spending enough for it to have a positive impact on your profits.
So find out what’s selling best, and run with it. Your chefs will be thankful, and your customers will know what they want by the time your waiter is back with the drinks!
Speed up service
You want your guests to be seated as soon as possible, and you want table service to be on schedule, but you don’t need to over-staff in order to have all bases covered.
Organise your staff effectively
For this, you don’t only need to have the right amount of people at the right time, you will also need to train your staff so that they always know where to be, and so that they know your action plan down to the last detail. Teach them to:
- Pay special attention to large parties. Your floor manager should always try to assign an extra server and an extra busser to help with larger parties, and likewise, the kitchen should understand what orders are going out for a large party.
- Drop off your checks strategically: if you see that a party is almost finished with their dessert, don’t hesitate to bring them the check. If you also have a bar on site, and you think your guests might be in the mood to stay a bit longer, invite them over to the bar, and throw some freebies to sweeten the deal if you’re in a rush to seat another party.
- Send your bussers over to clean a table as soon as your guests get up, and start tidying up little by little during their meal, always making sure to ask if they’re done with each dish.
- Always prepare glasses, napkins, plates and silverware in advance! Pre-roll napkins, and prepare silverware in advance if possible, to get new tables ready faster.
Speed up payments
Never matter how early you give a customer the check, it’s always a challenge to settle the tab in good time. This is one of the main choke points for table turnover rate, and if you have a quick-service restaurant, and you’re short on seating, the extra 5 minutes it might take your party to clear the check will have a huge impact on your sales at the end of the day.
As usual, technology comes to the rescue in our times of need: one of the most practical solutions for busy restaurants and bars looking to improve their table turnover, is to have the right point of sale system at hand. Now your waiter will be able to access any order in the system at any time, you can split checks for big parties without breaking a sweat, and print tickets with just one tap from anywhere in the restaurant.
On top of that, point of sale systems can also help you with order taking: with a few taps, your waiter will be able to send the order straight to the kitchen, saving them precious time going back and forth between different stations.
All in all, we can guarantee you that trying to improve your turnover rate is a worthwhile experiment: if done taking your brand concept and business needs into account, you stand to gain a lot, without requiring big investments or taking big risks!
Samuel Novoa, Editor at Poster POS, the point of sale and inventory management software that makes running a food service business simple.