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How to Improve Table Turnover Times at Your Restaurant

Alex DaGue
Alex DaGue

May 17, 2018 5:26:30 PM

Tables are like real estate.  The fuller they are, the better.  And sometimes the longer they sit, the higher the check ends up being. But what does the average table time look like?  Is your restaurant’s wait time too long given the budget and quality? In this article, we’ll show you tried and true methods to reduce table times and maximize profit per table.  Big or small, high-end, or casual-all of these methods can be applied.

>>Learn how to drive maximum revenue from your floor plan

Speeding up table turn times is an essential part of the restaurant manager's toolbox

table turnover

1. To Drop Or Not To Drop - The Art Of The Check

There are a myriad of small factors that come into play when determining when a table has been idle too long when a check should be dropped, and if it is ok to drop a check in the first place without asking.

The time of service can greatly affect when you should drop a check.  In fact, a casual lunch service would thrive off of the quickest possible turn times. 

Are your diners here for a quick lunch between work hours?  If so, dropping the check is lending a helping hand.  Your patrons won’t feel rushed and will love the expedited service.

When it comes to dropping a check early, higher-end restaurants need not apply.  If your guests are paying top dollar for their “prime real estate”, they are paying for more than just the food. 

If you focus heavily on ambiance, then expect longer table times.  Anywhere from an hour and a half to 2 and a half hours can be the norm in a higher-end restaurant.

Ideally, if you are a higher-end restaurant, most of the money per table will be through expensive food and drinks. If you are a more casual restaurant, this profit will be made through volume.

2. Dealing With Volume and Wait Time At The Door

As previously stated, volume can be a blessing when it comes to overall profit, but at what point can sheer volume cause stagnation?  

We have all seen a hot breakfast or brunch spot that has a line right up to the door.  A sea of stressed-out and hungry faces, coupled with a frustrated host/hostess is anything less than ideal.

What if you could carefully and creatively deal with volume in a way that played to your establishment’s overall advantage?  There are several ways to turn “the sea of angry people” at your doorstep into happy-paying customers. 

If you don’t have a bar, seriously consider getting one.  Bars are a great way to diffuse volume.  If you have people waiting for tables, offer them drinks while they wait.  Not only does this eliminate the line at the door, but turns a negative into a profitable situation.

Wait times can also be key points for advertising the menu.  Make sure your host/hostess is well-versed with your restaurant’s menu, so that not only can they make suggestions, but eliminate ordering times upon your guest’s arrival at their table.

If you can make the wait for your restaurant one that is not only enticing, optional (think bar here), and sells your menu only good things can happen.

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3. Menu Explanations

While having a knowledgeable person at the door can eliminate some of the time spent ordering, there will still be questions.

Not everyone knows what ceviche is.  And it’s probably a good thing to explain since it is raw.

Flambe?  Definitely ask the waiter.

However, most questions directed toward a waiter/waitress about food are most appropriate in a higher-end restaurant.  If there is more thought being poured into the food and more interesting ingredients, then explanation and clarification can make the difference between a good and great experience.

If you are a more casual restaurant and are not producing as high of a check per table, then explanations should be kept short. 

Allergies can always be put into the menu too.  This eliminates further questions and lets your customers come to a conclusion on their own.

4. Touching tables

Ever seen the thousand-yard stare from a table, directed solely and entirely at the serving staff?  Yea, not good.

It goes without saying that approaching tables as soon as they are seated is a sure-fire way to boost the customer experience and build cohesion in the workplace, but it also speeds up your dinner service. 

The sooner you can get to a table and identify their needs, the sooner they can be served. This is a very easy and controllable way to improve turn times.

turnover restaurant

5. Technology

Digital waitlisting systems have one killer feature unavailable to those using pen and paper - SMS reminders. Sending an SMS to the guest letting them know when the table is ready helps remove much of the uncertainty and inefficiency of waitlisting.

With a high-end restaurant, even a well-thought-out floor plan can be helped by online reservations software.  If you can map out your floor and chart what times are at each table, you can identify which tables need to be turned in order to move in new customers. This also helps you double tables to squeeze the maximum amount of revenue out of each service. 

A reservation system with an integrated waitlist, is a great way to organize your floor and help you minimize turn times, but what about simplifying the billing process?

Despite cash being king, cards are the way to pay.  And if you are a more casual restaurant, this usually means dealing with multiple cards when catering to a group.  POS systems also come in the form of pay-at-the-table tablets.  Tablets can be a great way to take payment quickly and eliminate running to the back of the house to swipe cards and make changes.


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