group of people eating inside a restaurant.
Unsplash/Lexie Barnhorn

Awareness should be enough to hurry the vast majority of your guests.

With Capacity on the Decline, Restaurants Need to Control Speed and Efficiency

The more customers, the better the odds.

The restaurant industry continues to be hit hard by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With winter approaching, many locations will no longer be able to offer outdoor seating and will have to solely rely on takeout, delivery, and the small amount of indoor seating allowed by their city. New York City, for example, still only allows 25 percent indoor capacity. Even if they allow up to 50 percent, it will still be difficult to turn a profit for most businesses, which is why almost 90 percent of NYC bars and restaurants couldn’t pay rent in October.

So what can be done? If capacity can’t be raised, restaurant owners need to pull the levers that can actually control: speed and efficiency. The more customers your location can serve in the same limited space, the better your odds of keeping the doors open through the winter months. Here are three ways restaurants can increase their speed and efficiency in order to see a boost in their Q4 numbers.

1. Be aggressive about turning over tables

While guests may be used to leisurely meals, restaurants operating at 25 percent capacity no longer have the luxury of time. Every minute a party sits at a table is a minute another party can’t. While it’s traditionally been poor form to rush patrons out of their seats, more restaurants are imposing time limits on their guests in order to turn their tables over faster.

Imposing a limit of say, 90 minutes, can increase the amount of guests your restaurant serves in a shift, but the implementation of this strategy has to be done both gently and obviously. First of all, make sure this new rule is posted everywhere so your guests aren’t caught off guard. It should be a notification on the website. Prominent signs should be at guest check-in. And reminders can be written on menus or on placards placed on tables.

Awareness should be enough to hurry the vast majority of your guests. Especially today, patrons are more willing to be gracious with restaurants as they know that business is hurting. But when those few guests do overstay their welcome, just provide them a gentle reminder and don’t enforce the rule by forcibly kicking them out. As long as your restaurant has 80 to 90 percent compliance, that’s already a win for your books.

2. Double down on delivery efficiency

If you’re still operating, you already know how important delivery is to staying afloat during this time. However, many restaurants who haven’t done much delivery in the past are not doing it well enough and potentially hurting their business. Delivery, just like indoor dining, is all about great service in order to get return customers.

Think about why we keep going back to buying from Amazon over and over again: it’s easy and quick. Amazon’s business is all about making it so simple to shop that there’s nearly zero barrier to do so. Meanwhile, many restaurants have terrible websites (especially on mobile devices) and force customers to call to place an order. It’s time to upgrade that entire delivery system, top to bottom, to make it zero barrier.

If your business isn’t already delivering through apps like Uber Eats and Postmates (we know how expensive the fees can be), try your best to mimic that level of customer experience. Overhaul your mobile menu. Add a “popular dishes” section to make choosing easier. Make sure your app or website can remember their previous order to make reordering a couple clicks. Or even consider going to a “ghost kitchen” model to really take your efficiency to the next level.

At the end of the day, if you can provide an easier and faster delivery than your competitors, you’ll earn more business as word of mouth of their great experience spreads.

3. Limit your menu items

While many restaurants have removed certain menu items due to cost, another consideration should be taking them off due to speed. Some dishes may simply not be worth the time it takes to create when you’re trying to turn over the 25% of you can have, quickly. Furthermore, the less dishes your restaurant offers, the more efficient your kitchen will be.

But there are more drastic measures as well, such as getting rid of appetizers or desserts. While they might be high-margin items, savvy owners will have to calculate whether that margin is large enough to offset the tables not being turned over sooner. If your restaurant doesn’t want to take such drastic measures, consider taking their appetizer order at the same time as the main course and bringing them out together.

A simple menu item to remove might just be tea and coffee, as many guests may extend their stay for a cup after a meal. Or at least consider bringing the coffee out in a to-go cup. It might not be the most “classy” thing to do with your guests, but they will understand during this unusual time. At the end of the day, keeping the lights on by serving more guests is more important than maintaining appearances.

Lydia Fayal is the Head of Growth at Workstream, a hiring automation platform used by many restaurant and franchise owners at companies like Jamba, Chick-fil-A, and McDonald's. For more information on how Workstream can help restaurants hire faster and better, click here.

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