How to Improve Table Turnover in Your Restaurant (And Still Keep Customers Happy)
Updated: Feb 11, 2019
Table turnover is a tricky thing you master: You want to serve as many customers per meal service as possible, but you also don’t want to make them feel like you’re in a rush for them to leave.
While table turnover rates are often overlooked when setting up a restaurant, it’ll eventually turn out to be a crucial factor that affects your bottom line. Most full-service restaurants, for instance, seat about 3 rounds of diners per evening. Lose a little time here and there and you’ll only be seating 2 rounds of diners – that’s a third of your revenue lost!
There’s a whole book of tricks when it comes to this; otherwise, you’ll be in for a long night.
1. If you want your customers to move quickly, you should too
This one simply goes without saying: Make sure diners are getting service when they ask for it.
Industry standards recommend that the servers should get to each table of diners within just one minute of being seated. After all, getting to a table quickly, whether to serve your customers drinks to start or to take their order, is a much better idea than rushing them to leave.
2. Prevent hold-ups
More and more restaurants are no longer sitting incomplete parties – even if that one missing friend is “only 2 minutes away” (or so your customers say!).
Incomplete parties throw off your restaurant’s general tempo as they’re less likely to be in sync with the ordering and eating patterns of other diners that you seat at similar times. They’ll also probably take longer to order, make multiple orders at various points of time, or finish their food at different speeds.
As a result, your productivity, both front and back-of-house, takes a hit – and this hurts not only your table turnover rate, but also the customer experience of every customer in your restaurant, especially during peak mealtimes.
3. Rethink your reservation system
Kelvin, owner of a Korean restaurant along Tanjong Pagar Road, has reservations about reservations. Especially for a busy restaurant like his, which gets enough walk-ins to fill every table throughout dinner service, not taking reservations eliminates a lot of complications such as no-shows and awkwardly-timed reservation slots, all of which upsets the table turnover rate.
Of course, there’s also the downside of losing potential customers who want the guarantee of having a table at a certain time. “I admit [not taking reservations] doesn’t offer the best guest experience,” says Kevin. Instead, he encourages customers to leave their numbers down if his restaurant is full, and give them a call to let them know when a table is open. At least they’re then free to walk around the area while waiting, and aren’t left twiddling their thumbs at the door.
In this age of millenial patience, though, many other restaurants still have a reservation system of some sort. Modern-Australian grill restaurant Burnt Ends strikes a good balance: Dinner reservations are only taken at 6pm or 6.30pm (essentially the first round of seating), while any other timings are walk-in only. This cleverly quashes any worry of a table sitting vacant while waiting for a reservation, or having diners hog a table meant for a later reservation.
4. Limit your menu options
While there’s probably no inoffensive way to make your restaurant guests eat faster, you can speed everything else up, including how quickly they order. One way is to limit the number of items offered on your menu to make your diners’ decision-making process more efficient.
A study about menu choice found that the magic number for menu items was about 6 for quick service food establishments and 7-10 for fine dining restaurants. That’s not a hard-and-fast rule, of course. Analyze what your customers order to determine the most popular menu items of your restaurant, and revise your menu accordingly.
5. Play the psychology game
What’s the sound of sales like? According to psychology, it’s not “ka-ching!”. Playing faster-paced, upbeat music has been proven to increase table turnover rate, as diners are subconsciously more aroused and tend to linger for shorter periods of time.
Placing tables and chairs away from the corners of your restaurant, most ideally in the middle of the dining space, also incentivizes customers to linger less, since this is often the busiest spot in the restaurant.
Turn the tables
Tailor these tips according to your restaurant: A more casual restaurant will likely want to turn tables quickly, while a fine dining restaurant would probably try to keep customers at their table to increase their check size. If your space is made for people to stay – say, you’re a cute, cosy cafe – then it might take enforcing rules to prevent “campers”.
Every second of mealtimes is precious for your restaurant business. We hope these little tips go a long way towards improving your bottom line!