One of the most important metrics in your restaurant that directly impacts your bottom line is your table turnover rate. And the good news is that it’s something you can control.
You want to maintain a table turnover rate that keeps your guests happy. It needs to be long enough for them to enjoy their dining experience, but short enough to reduce waiting times for other guests.
With already tight profit margins, turning over more tables at a faster rate means seating more guests and maximizing profits for your restaurant. And achieving the right table turnover rate creates a comfortable, productive rhythm for your entire team.
A poor table turnover rate could be disastrous: dissatisfied customers waiting longer to be seated, servers running around frantically, the kitchen getting backed up, and your restaurant losing money.
Luckily, there are several ways to optimize your restaurant's table turnover rate and increase profits.
1. Know Guests’ Time Constraints
Ask your guests before they sit down, or as they're being seated: “What brings you in today?”
This opener allows you to learn why they're at your restaurant, so you can tailor your service accordingly. If it's a special occasion, you can anticipate a longer table turn time, and a dessert will likely be involved. If they're grabbing a quick bite before a show, you'll know to expedite their dining experience.
2. Only Seat Complete Parties
It's a smart idea to institute a "no seating incomplete parties" policy on your busiest shifts, even if guests have a reservation. Incomplete parties can cause table turn times to increase, creating a bottleneck in your restaurant's meal service. It's a delay that is felt throughout the restaurant: this table won't turn as quickly as others, making it more difficult to seat waiting parties – and costing both the server and the restaurant money.
3. Encourage Lingering Guests to Leave
Don't be afraid to ask that table camping out to leave – but be tactful in your approach.
The oldest trick in the book is to slowly clear the table over multiple visits; each time you visit the table to take another item, ask if you can get them anything else. Usually, people get the hint.
If you have bar or lounge seating available, offer to set them up there and walk them over. If the situation is really bad and the table still hasn't left, offer to buy them dessert or drinks at the bar. Remind them how you've enjoyed taking care of them.
If your restaurant is more casual, or if you've established a good rapport, be honest while being tactful and polite. Let them know you have other guests waiting that would love their table. Most of the time, your guests will be understanding.
4. Recommend Fast-to-Prepare Items
If you're in the thick of a rush and need to turn your tables, recommend menu items that take less time to prepare. If a guest is torn between a Greek salad or the steak frites, the suggestion is clear.
5. Combine Your Trips
One of the biggest ways servers slow down their service is by taking two trips to accomplish what could have been done in one. Consolidating visits will help shave 5-10 minutes off your service time.
For example, come to the table with a bread basket (if your restaurant offers bread service) while introducing yourself.
6. Prep Ahead of Time
The minutes add up every time you need to fill more ramekins with salad dressing, which could have been time spent delivering outstanding service.
Prepare as much as possible ahead of time without sacrificing quality. Have ramekins with popular sauces, water pitchers, and even certain menu items like pre-portioned desserts ready to go in advance.
7. Signal with the Check
Dropping the check tells a party you consider their meal complete, but if they're having a great time, you don’t want to cut their evening short.
If you've offered dessert and they've declined, it's completely acceptable to bring the check and remind guests the check is all set. You can even have their check ready when you offer dessert. If they say – decline dessert, present their check soon after.
8. Use Technology to Increase Efficiency
"Our meal was great, but it took so long to get the check," is one of the most common online restaurant reviews. While you can aim to have a guest's check ready in advance, it's difficult to prevent the frustrating bottleneck at the terminal that occurs when multiple servers need to close out checks at the same time. A terminal traffic jam delays table turn time, and keeps both staff and guests waiting longer than they'd like.
Toast Go™ offers the full, robust functionality of a traditional POS in a comfortable handheld custom-built for the restaurant industry. Servers can check on orders, split checks, process payment, and more – without having to leave the table.
Restaurants like Odd Duck in Austin using Toast Go™ have seen an increase in overall operational efficiency and in average table turn time.
“Our turn times dropped dramatically with Toast Go, which equates to an extra half a million dollars in annual sales. More tables come with more tips: each server takes home about $7,000 in additional gratuities annually,” says Cory Neel, Odd Duck's General Manager.
9. Play Upbeat Music
Louder music with a faster, upbeat rhythm will encourage guests to eat faster.
10. Use Bright Colors
Brighter restaurant colors that are closer to primary colors (red, yellow and blue) are more stimulating than warm soft tones, and will inhibit your guests from relaxing as much.
11. Offer Seating That's Comfortable Enough
Comfortable booths and big soft chairs will keep guests seated longer. Balance comfort with your need to turn tables. Also, seating guests in the interior of your restaurant will encourage them to speed up their meal.
12. Streamline Your Menu Options
Large menus can slow down service for three reasons:
- The complexity creates longer ticket times in the kitchen.
- Your guests have a harder time making decisions.
- Your guests are often less satisfied when their options are endless than they are with limited options.
Balance Table Turns to Maximize Profits
What combination of speed and revenue per guest leads to the most satisfied guests with the most profits? It's crucial that you balance quality of service, satisfied guests, per-person average check size, and table turns – finding what works best for your team and guests.
About Toast: Toast, a new CHECK® Business Tools partner, powers successful restaurants of all sizes with a technology platform that combines restaurant POS, front-of-house, back-of-house and guest-facing technology with a diverse marketplace of third-party applications. By pairing technology with an unrivaled commitment to customer success, Toast helps restaurants streamline operations, increase revenue and deliver amazing guest experiences. Toast was named to the 2019 Forbes Fintech 50, 2019 SXSW Interactive Innovation Finals, 2018 Forbes Cloud 100 and recognized as the third fastest-growing technology company in North America on the 2017 Deloitte Fast 500. Learn more about Toast by visiting POS and Restaurant Management Platform.