How to Improve Turnover Times in a Restaurant: 10 Tips

Slow tickets. The couple who seem to stretch a second bottle of wine into a fourth hour. The after-work happy hour crew who think two baskets of fries is worth holding down a corner booth till well past the dinner rush. The brunch klatch who are going to nurse those bottomless mimosas until — dear sweet marmalade, are they breaking out the Times crossword? For real?

But it’s also true that the longer someone spends in your restaurant, they more they become the very fabric of the place. Which is why you’ve mostly tolerated them with a shrug. That was, until Covid landed. Now your costs have gone up, while your seating has gone down, especially indoors. Velocity is the name of the game, moreso now than ever. And you’ve got to get people scooting out the doors with a quickness if you’re even going to keep those doors open.

It’s time to get strategic about table turnover rates (ideally without turning to the Dark Side). Anticipate guests’ needs, serve one step ahead, and answer questions before they’re asked. Your patrons will understand the need to run your business in a way that ensures you’ll be around for their next visit.

Here are tips from industry pros who, like you, are learning to navigate the big question: How do I turn these tables over quicker?

Post your mask policy in plain sight

Same goes for ordering guidelines. Keep your staff from having to explain the new rules every four minutes. Everyone will be more comfortable, and customers will order quicker if they can get the hang of things fast.

Set a time limit, and state it upfront

Everyone understands during Covid that they might not get to linger. Best to put it sign form, so your server doesn’t have to be the bad cop. But say it, post it, reiterate it, and most of all, make that hour (or two or whatever) one they’ll never forget, and they’ll come back for another soon.

Make every table touch count

Get out of the habit of “just checking in.” Instead, says Matt Sherry, the director of restaurants for the 16” on Center group in Chicago, proactively plan table touches. “Make sure table visits have a purpose. Always bring something and take something,” he says. “With restricted service models during a pandemic, anticipating guests’ needs is more important than ever.”

Give a heads-up well in advance

It works with small children and grown-ups: the end of something fun is always easier when you’re mentally prepared. If folks know they have just 20 or 30 minutes to wrap things up, that gentle reminder to get moving doesn’t feel passive-aggressive.

Size up your serving

Some places are shrinking menus to streamline meals. Others are meeting seating limits with flat-out bigger drinks. One jumbo cocktail serving will move things along quicker than the “Can I get you another?” dance, right?

Helpfully suggest their next destination

Donavan Mitchem, an industry veteran and beverage director of Moneygun in Chicago, says his go-to strategy for subtly sending patrons on their way is to inquire about their plans. “If it’s pre-dinner, ask where they’re headed to eat or suggest another bar in the area if you’re looking to free up some seating,” he says. “Most people get the hint, or at least start planning their departure.” Nudge, nudge.

Be upfront about your limits

Simply ask people if you need their table. People get it. They want you to keep making money. Let them know, kindly, when other guests are waiting. It’s a courtesy and a message they can live with. They’ll be back.

Mobile ordering keeps people mobile

That QR code on the table does more than keep things touchless. You can also set up ordering from a website or app, so no in-person lines, no miscommunication with a server, and people get things rolling as soon as they’re ready. In surveys, people say they prefer to order from a server … but they actually give higher ratings to places that let them move fast. Go figure.

Streamline your kitchen

If certain dishes take longer to prepare, make sure tickets get to the kitchen as early as possible. If there’s a wait or you’re using a counter service model, you can begin to prepare food even before guests are seated. Regardless, make sure your ticket times are top-notch. And if an item is taking too long? Boot it off the menu.

Get the robots to help

Some reservation platforms, like Toast, provide guest info to make service more efficient (and have tools to calculate the metrics so you can reach turnover and overall revenue goals). The more you know about your guests ahead of their visit, the better you can prepare. If you need a full tech audit, connect with hospitality-focused IT experts like Science on Call, or search our Back of House solutions page for a list of tech solutions organized by topic.

[Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels]