If you want to turn a profit at your restaurant (and who doesn’t?), one of the most important skills to master is table management.
When we say table management, we mean knowing your restaurant’s floor plan, which tables are filled and by how many people, how long the guests have been seated there, how much time it takes to flip a table, and which guests are up next to fill the spots.
Being able to manage your tables effectively and flip them quickly is your fastest way to being profitable. After all, the more times you turn over a table, the more guests you are able to serve, and the more sales you make. This also means customers are seated faster and served quickly, so no one gets hangry and everyone leaves happy.
Effective table management also helps you better understand your restaurant’s traffic patterns. For example, if on Mondays you have slower traffic for lunch, you’ll want to have less staff on the schedule. Adjusting staff and food preparation based on these insights saves you money in the long run.
So table management helps grow sales, keeps customers happy, and saves money — all of which leads to more revenue in the long run. You’re probably already doing some form of table management, but here are a few tips to make it more effective:
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Invest in a POS system with table management capabilities.
Forget crossing off tables on a laminated seating chart and peering into the dining room to see if that one table finally paid its check. A restaurant point-of-sale system can help you more effectively track covers, when a table is about to turn, and how revenue centers are performing.
You can also easily run sales reports that give you insights into how your business is really running. With that information, you can make smarter decisions that create a more efficient service and a better customer experience, while reducing costs.
The cost for a POS depends on your use case and the functionality it provides. Square’s restaurant POS starts at $60 a month per location.1 And while that may be an investment up front, if you use it correctly, you’ll make back the cost in increased sales. (More on that below.)
Create an even workload for servers.
It’s pretty basic, but this is something that can be overlooked — especially as things get busy. Think of your restaurant floor plan like a basketball-style zone defense. You want each server to have an area they cover so they can be efficient in serving each customer.
If three tables are seated in one server’s area in a short timeframe (and the other servers have no one in their sections), this could fluster your server and decrease the quality of service for your customers. So you want to make sure that customers are distributed evenly in those areas.
Customize your tables to your space and location.
The types of table you have — two-tops, four-tops, etc. — should take into account how big your space is and the type of customers you serve. If you’re in a popular tourist destination, for instance, and you get a lot of large groups, then you should have several big tables available that can also convert to smaller options if needed.
One way to make sure you have the right kind of seating is to keep track of the party sizes you serve each day. Then use that data to determine what sizes of table are most useful and what times of year you may need to change those sizes.
Create a process for servers so they are attentive but not annoying.
For the best customer experience, you want to make sure a customer’s water glass is always full, utensils are always stocked, and that servers are not seen to be rushing guests through their meals. Have a nearby server station so they can easily access water, utensils, etc. and seamlessly serve guests without interrupting conversations.
Most importantly, clearly articulate your expectations for service when each of your staff members is trained and provide feedback on a regular basis.
Outline the procedure for turning a table.
You probably know the average turn time for a table in your restaurant. But you can’t control how long an individual party takes to finish its meal (although there are ways to boost your table turnover).
You can, however, control the time between seatings. Think about all the things that need to be done between one party leaving and the next being seated, and then create a procedure that makes the most of every minute.
Using your POS, you should pay attention to how long tables are left open between seating guests. You want a table’s cleanup time to be as fast as possible. The quicker you clean and set the table, the quicker a new guest can sit, which means more potential sales for you.
You can strategize ways to close this window of time by assigning bus staff zone areas to clean and getting your hostess to call parties to the front stand and tell them their table will be ready shortly. As soon as it’s ready, the party is already there and the hostess can escort them to the table quickly.
Use insights to help servers.
When you look at the data from your POS system, you can use sales data to help servers maximize their impact. You should be able to see which servers are turning the most tables and think of different opportunities to increase sales.
For example, if a server is consistently underselling when compared to other servers, they may not be using their time effectively. Help the server find the best strategies for serving people quicker.
Take notes about your customers.
Restaurants that effectively manage their tables create a more seamless experience that customers want to come back to. As you start to build your group of loyal customers, make sure you’re making notes (in your point of sale) about those customers’ preferences and how long they typically dine.
Knowing what your customers like and what their usual dining experience looks like can help your staff provide a better meal for them and it can help you anticipate when the table might turn.
1Includes one point of sale. Add additional points of sale for $40 a month each, per location.