5 Ways to Improve Table Turns

All Restaurants are different, however the common theme that they all try to accomplish is serving as many covers as possible.  This obviously increases business and your bottom line, but also creates a positive ‘buzz’ around the culture of your restaurant.  Hearing people say: “Have you been to ‘Restaurant’? They are always packed and the food is great! I really hope we can get a seat there!” is always rewarding. Constantly seeing a full parking lot is great for business.  Having a reasonable wait is good for business. To maximize the amount of guests you serve and keep the wait to a minimum, you must be able to turn those tables quickly. Finding the fine line of a perfect table turn and forcing guests out the door is tricky.  There is nothing worse than a great meal being ruined by randomly being told that you must leave.

In a world of unicorns and rainbows, the average table turn is 2.  The actual average number lies closer to 1.5. According to Upserve, the average time it takes to turn a table is 45 minutes.  Albeit, not every restaurant can turn every table even once if that is not how they operate. If you have limited hours of operation, or an extensive menu which has many long pickups, kiss those turns goodbye.  There are many things you can do to combat this problem. Even if you are a restaurant that typically serves multiple courses, having strong servers who know how to manage a table effectively can achieve that magic number of 2 turns.

If you have an 80 seat restaurant with a check average of 75 dollars per guest, turning tables 1.5 times brings in $9000 per night. If you can reach 2 table turns, you’re looking at $12,000. That’s a significant chunk of change you’re leaving on the table. So how do you increase that rate?

  1. The 2/5/7 Table Approach

One of the largest reasons tables turn slowly is that it takes forever and a day to get a drink order, never mind ordering food.  Sometimes there are particular guests who are cranky and need a beverage or a snack to put them in their happy place. Starting off an experience at a restaurant on a positive note can make all of the difference as to how the rest of the meal could go.  This is where adopting a 2/5/7 approach could help get that order into the kitchen and start the dining experience on the right foot. This simply means that guests are greeted by the bus person and watered within 2 minutes of seating, greeted by the waitperson and drink orders taken within 5 minutes of seating, and drinks are delivered, questions are answered, and the prompting of ordering within 7 minutes of seating.  This may seem like a daunting task, but having strong servers who are properly trained can make this a reality. If their section gets double or triple sat, they can take 3 drink orders, deliver 3 sets of drinks, and take 3 food orders all simultaneously. Taking time to run back to the computer or the bar in between each table takes more time than servers think, never mind getting distracted by a food bell or being asked to lend a hand.  If you are trying to reach the optimal 45 minute table turn, you would then leave your kitchen more than enough time to pick up a first course and a properly fired second course.

    2. Give Your Guests a Time Limit

Campers. The epitome of guests in the restaurant world, loathed by many, actually by almost everyone.  There is nothing worse than a table taking their sweet time to sit down, and refusing to even look at a menu because they simply “nEeD MOre TiMe”  What’s even worse is, once you finally get a drink order and drop them off, that they must sit with their drinks before they can even think about food.

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The icing on the cake of this situation occurs when the waiter knows they are taking a while and promptly fires their food and when it reaches the table, their order is sent back because they aren’t done with their drink or their first course yet.  The food dies and you’re forced to eat that food cost, and if you are trying to keep the guests happy you’re firing another steak extra well done (because that’s exactly the type of person who would do this) which will hold them to that table for another at least 30+ minutes.

Putting it on the restaurant staff to try and rush guests who are in no hurry never ends well. It’s even worse practice to approach a table which has had a rough experience and ask them to hurry up because the table is needed.   

A great way to ensure guests don’t setup camp at a table is to preface their meal and reservation with a table time limit.  Setting a time limit on a table will then either prompt the guest to move the meal along themselves, or even prevent them from making that reservation. While it’s never good to lose a cover, it provides you the opportunity to have 2 seatings at a table instead of the one.  

  3. A Kitchen Friendly Menu and Properly Educated Staff

Steak, duck, pork, fried chicken, or any large protein take 20+ minutes to pick up. Risotto, composed salads, or other intricate garde manger dishes slow down the Kitchen staff and takes a lot of their focus.  A lot of chefs like to showcase their expertise and ability with immaculate first courses and composed entrees.  However if you are about to enter into your busy season and the crunch for time is on, working with them to compose a menu which their cooks can execute effectively in a timely manner is imperative in maximizing the table turns.

Piggy backing off of that, having properly trained staff also cuts down time at a table and increases those turns.  There is nothing a chef hates more than having a board full of dupes and a server comes to ask if there is allium in the duck breast or if there is dairy in the mushroom risotto or if there is cilantro in the cucumber salad. The time it takes the staff to run back and forth from the kitchen to check on easy questions like that is just wasteful.  Educating your staff on the menu and having a pre-shift run through of the menu cuts down on “wasted” time during dinner service.

Another easy way to decrease the duration of a meal is for servers to know the pick up times of dishes, and firing courses in a timely manner.  If you set a time limit on a table and the guests are steadily moving along, but the server is the reason for their dragging meal, the guests can’t be expected to leave at the end of their allotted time.   

   4. Having the Proper Amount of Terminals and Check Delivery

Arguably the longest wasted time guests spend at a table is waiting for the check.  This is a problem entirely controllable by the restaurant staff. Antsy guests who are on a time constraint or the agitated guests in the lobby are depending on that check being dropped off and bill paid in a timely manner.  One easy way to avoid wasted time here is having enough Point of Sale towers. There is nothing worse than a traffic jam at the one computer that works or fighting over the computer which has the credit card processor. Another is having servers print checks and keep them on their person so that once they ask a table if they want/serve them desert, they can drop the check without having to run back to the computer.  New platforms like Upserve and Toast even provide mobile Point of Sale options which if that fit your restaurant model, would be another great solution to these problems.

5. Dropping the check

If you look at the total dining experience, the two largest portions of time is getting your drink order, and paying the bill. Often times guests are waiting 15-20 minutes for a check after they have finished their final course, and another 10 to get their cards back. This is a hugely wasteful practice, relating to an understaffed restaurant, poorly trained served, or antiquated technology. Many times, you are fighting with an antiquated POS freezes, crashes or is just dreadfully low. Drop the check a few minutes after dropping the final course, or once the guest pass on coffee or deserts, and get that table turned.