With all the changes to the restaurant industry over the past decade, one thing is still the same: there are only 4 ways to increase restaurant sales. In this four part series, we’ve looked at attracting new customers, increasing visit frequency, and generating more spend per ticket. Now, we turn our attention to the fourth — and last — method for increasing your restaurant sales: increasing table turns or flow-through.
Moving more customers through your establishment on any given day is definitely a challenge, and being filled to capacity requires different tactics to manage than it would if you’re under-booked. Marketing and consumer influence can’t get tables turned at a steady pace or keep customers progressing swiftly through your ordering line. You have to rely almost entirely on the efficiency of your staff and the infrastructure of your restaurant itself. Conducting a thorough audit of what happens from the moment a guest walks through your door until they pay can expose areas of improvement for you and your team. What follows are four factors to keeping service moving at a profitable pace: staffing, your dining space, the menu, and your equipment.
More than with any of the other four ways to increase restaurant sales, your entire staff can have a profound effect on generating faster table turns and flow-through at your restaurant. Of course, no one wants customers to feel rushed or “managed” through the process of dining out. That doesn’t make for a good experience — or a return visit. But prompt attention at every stage of the customer’s visit can make the difference between three or four seatings in a dinner shift and just one or two.
If your restaurant is full service, begin with looking at your host’s process of seat management. Savvy restaurant operators will divide their tables into quadrants, filling them with guests as they arrive in rotation so no one area becomes overwhelmed. Your servers will be able to maintain an even pace in caring for their guests, and no employee ends up with less to do (or less tips) than any other. Your kitchen staff will also thank you, as no one section or server will end up dominating their prep line, making orders more difficult to execute, and the potential for tension much greater.
It’s also important for every member of the team to stay alert and responsive to the timing of their duties. Are orders being taken promptly and input into the POS system immediately? Are checks being presented and collected in a timely manner? Are tables bussed and reset as soon as your guests leave? Your front of house manager should be able to feel the rhythm of service when everything is streaming effectively — and when things need to be ironed out as well. Identifying what factor is slowing down table turns or holding up the order line is key to course correcting a problem before the end of the shift.
The Restaurant Environment
The space your guests physically occupy is also crucial to maintaining a steady flow of business. Bottlenecks in an order line can make for some very angry customers by the time they reach your cashier, but it also can cost you revenue. Not only are there less people being served in the same amount of time, but long, unmoving lines can easily deter customers from eating with you. If it’s a choice between a confusing, messy line going out the door or another restaurant with the appearance of quick ordering and delivery, guess which one a casual diner is likely to choose.
The same can be said for bottlenecks at the front of full service restaurants surrounding the host or reservation desk. Even if the guests waiting made reservations, having to occupy a physically uncomfortable space before sitting down for a meal does not leave the best impression. Adding a separate station for pick-up orders that are called in ahead of time can help mitigate this issue, as can remodeling your front of house space to allow for enough room in the entrance to accommodate more than one or two waiting parties.
Once your guests are seated, do you have the right mix of tables for your average dinner party sizes? If you know the majority of your reservations and walk-ins are parties of two, but the majority of your seating is four-tops, you’re likely leaving money on the table (or making for a lot of unnecessary scramble). The reverse is also true. If you frequently host larger groups of diners, consider a standard large table set-up in one part of your dining room, perhaps even building out a party room for private events. You will be saving your staff time on set-up they could be using to turn tables in your dining room, and it gives you an opportunity to monetize options that match exactly what the customer is looking for: privacy, extra attention, and a planned menu.
Believe it or not, menu design does have a significant impact on the ability to move customers through your establishment. It begins with the number of choices you offer your customers. Many restaurateurs will presume that the more options you give a diner, the more likely it is they will find something they’ll want to order. The opposite is actually true — and scientifically proven with what has come to be known as the Jam Study.
In short, a study conducted in 2000 (and verified once again in 2015) proved that offering consumers a display of 24 types of jam would produce more initial interest, but ultimately far less sales than a display of 6 types of jam. One tenth of the sales, in fact. Why is that? Because consumers are effected by what’s known as “choice overload.” The result for your restaurant may not always be less sales, but it can frequently lead to exponentially longer times for ordering, slowing down service in kind. The more difficult you make the decision for your guest, the longer they’ll be sitting at a table without food resting in front of them. And that means less table turns for full service restaurants and significantly slowed flow-through in limited service circumstances as well.
Keep your menu limited and legible, particularly if your establishment maintains low lighting. Nothing is more frustrating when dining than having to squint to make out item descriptions on your menu, so make sure you organize it in such a way as to make the experience less frustrating.
Technology and Equipment
The number of choices on your menu also impacts your back of house in considerable ways, and can lead to longer wait times. Too many choices can mean too much disparity in prep and cooking spaces for a single kitchen to manage without constant set-up and breakdown. And if your kitchen is not set up to minimize unnecessary wait, you could be cheating yourself out of the opportunity to serve more customers — and turn a greater profit.
Observe a standard night’s service carefully from the sidelines and see if your kitchen flow makes sense. Are your chef and staff tripping over each other? Is equipment like freezers and warming drawers in locations that make for efficient use? Is inventory managed effectively and organized for easy access? Do you even have all the tools you need to quickly produce routine orders without creative workarounds?
Also consider your POS – does it work as well as your staff needs it to? Technology is a boon to every workplace, but only when it works the way it should. If your system gets backed up, experiences lag time in communicating between the front and back of house, or drops orders, you could have a staff training issue, or it could be time for a new system. Either way, ensuring that your POS is configured specifically to meet your needs can eliminate the kinds of service hiccups that slow down business — and ultimately affect your bottom line.
Increasing restaurant sales is only half the picture. Download our free eBook on “How to Control Your Costs” for the other half of the equation today!