It’s easy to tell which restaurants continue to rely on outdated table management systems. Walk in during peak hours, and you’re likely to see guests looking at empty tables while being made to wait at the host stand. Hosts are fielding angry demands from guests and complaints from servers. The kitchen is backed up and orders are full of mistakes. Harried managers are trying, unsuccessfully, to make everyone happy. When there is a lack of efficiency, chaos reigns, profits plummet, and no one enjoys themselves.
This scenario will be most familiar to restaurants still using single-point waitlist methods, or assigning tables with grease pencils and restaurant layouts. In too many cases, restaurants think of technology in term of solving a specific issue—rather than as an integrated system designed to create a better customer experience. It’s time to bring front-of-house operations into the 21st century. By using simple integrated technologies, restaurants can improve efficiency for both customers and staff—ensuring smooth guest flow and the superior customer satisfaction scores that drive repeat visits.
Use Versatile Technologies to Turn Tables Faster
When a customer has to wait to be seated, they’re already being inconvenienced, and the restaurant is losing money. Holding guests captive at the host stand in order to hear when their party is called only adds frustration to an already inconvenient experience. When LRS introduced guest pagers to restaurants in the 1990s, it gave customers the freedom to wait outside or at the bar and eliminated the need for hosts to wander through a hungry, impatient crowd yelling out party names. Mobile technology created the opportunity to use guests’ cell phones as notification devices, and many restaurants now send SMS messages to communicate when a table is ready, although table status is often managed manually or through a separate system.
More recently, applications like On Cue for Restaurants allow a single interface to manage guests and table status, and give customers the option of being notified by guest pager or text message. Moreover, these technologies integrate notification functions with waitlist management processes that empower host stands with a wide range of capabilities, such as matching party sizes to available tables and quoting wait times more accurately.
Though improving the guest experience is the primary goal of table management, increasing table turns and seating the customer more quickly also increases revenue. Fortunately, there are a number of technologies to help get diners in open seats more quickly. Wireless Table Updater devices allow restaurant staff to instantly update table statuses with a handheld remote. Floor staff can send real-time information on which tables need bussing, which are on hold for a reservation, and which are ready to be seated, eliminating the need for the host to leave the stand and scout for availability and status. This lets the restaurant maximize space and increase table turnover while reducing wait times and improving the guest experience.
Start Leveraging Data
Many in the full-service restaurant industry are finding ways to use simple data—often, information already being collected by the host—to drive better business decisions. Being able to automatically identify simple metrics like average wait times by party size, which areas of your restaurant are used most, table types preferred, and time spent at each table by time of day, will all give you insights into optimal table configuration and staffing. Collecting this type of data in one central application allows operators to recognize important trends that results in improved service and reduced costs.
Maximize Efficiency with Instant Staff Communication
It’s no secret that communication is key, but many restaurants still lack the ability to quickly and clearly share information between the host stand, serving staff, management, and kitchen. Need to have that four-top bussed first in order to seat a group that’s had a long wait? Does that rare steak need to make its way to the table right now? Does a disgruntled guest need some attention from a manager?
The use of staff pagers can go a long way toward eliminating the unnecessary time and frustration these scenarios can bring. Instead of having to be physically tracked down, bussers can be wirelessly notified of changing table needs, thereby improving response times and guest satisfaction. Servers can be instantly paged when food is ready for pick up and still hot and fresh, allowing them to spend more time with guests and less time camped out near the kitchen.
Instant communication can elevate mediocre service to a top-notch guest experience. Staff paging systems—which can be integrated with front door and kitchen management systems—speed food delivery, minimize mistakes, and decrease wait time, while allowing management to easily identify which issues need their attention. More efficiency means a better guest experience and increased profits for the restaurant.
Table management doesn’t have to be a complicated, out-of-date, or frustrating process. Integrated technologies exist today that not only manage the waitlist, but facilitate clear and instant communication, along with offering important insights into your operations. Some will understandably resist these advances as too complex or difficult to manage. Restaurants that want to gain an immediate advantage, however, will embrace these new technologies and adopt newer, enhanced table management systems as an means to easily transport their operations out of the dark ages and further into the 21st century.
The opinions of contributors are their own. Publication of their writing does not imply endorsement by FSR magazine or Journalistic Inc.