Amid the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, restaurant leaders were faced with an onslaught of developing health and safety guidelines—as well as the sudden, astronomical growth of off-premises dining. This forced them to become laser focused on the basics: executing pared down menus well and offering what service they could amid ever-changing restrictions. Consumers, for the most part, were patient as brands worked out the challenges in their operations; however, since the summer of 2021, many consumers have returned to dining rooms and outdoor on-premises spaces. Now, with the re-emergence of on-premises dining, diners crave a return to the elevated brand experiences they enjoyed prior to the pandemic.
However, providing an elevated guest experience is not as simple for labor-strapped restaurants as it was in 2019, yet failing to deliver on any single detail of the dining experience—even something so simple as the stability of the tables in the dining room—can make or break a customer’s visit and alter their perception of a brand for years to come.
Take, for example, this experience all diners are familiar with: They (or a member of the wait staff in a full-service restaurant) carry a tray of hot food and cold drinks to a table, only to place it down on a table that rocks, which dumps the food and beverages they’ve eagerly anticipated on the floor—or worse, on the diners. Not only do wet, dirty clothes create discomfort for diners, but spilling the food and beverages also disappoints hungry patrons who, in thinking back on their visit to the restaurant, remember only this negative impression.
“The costliest expense is the lack of repeat business caused by a ruined dining experience and a bad social media review.”
While the situation seems simple, the stakes for restaurants are high. A recent survey conducted by YouGov for FLAT Tech—a company that stabilizes tables for major brands in the hospitality industry world-wide—found that 56 percent of Americans would reconsider returning to a restaurant where their experience had been ruined by a wobbly tables. Furthermore, if that statistic is not frightening enough, each bad experience a diner has at a restaurant is another chance for a negative social media review, which can lead to more lost business and brand damage.
This is exactly the issue Tony Pike, founder of FLAT Tech, set out to solve in 2004.
“Our founder, Tony, was in a cafe in Sydney, Australia, in 2004, and his friend, who owned the restaurant, was fixing a table after the uneven surface had caused Tony’s coffee to spill,” says Barry Mancell, CEO of FLAT Tech. “The friend looked up at Tony and said, ‘I need a permanent fix for this, every day it’s an issue.’”
Pike, spent the next few years developing the technology that became FLAT®, including the brand’s Patented Actuator Device (PAD), which sits underneath a huge range of FLAT® Table Bases that instantly adjust and stabilize on uneven surfaces. Not only does FLAT’s technology help restaurants stabilize tables to help bolster the guest experience and prevent spills, but it also gives restaurants more flexibility in their dining rooms.
Today, FLAT has expanded its product line to better serve the needs of operators at some of the biggest restaurant, brands, hotel, and casinos in the world.
When the pandemic necessitated brands add more space between tables for indoor dining or that they expand their outdoor dining options, tables equipped with FLAT’s technology could be placed anywhere, including on an uneven dining room floor that would typically be avoided in a parking lot or on an outdoor patio.
Additionally, Mancell says tables fitted with FLAT are easy to adjust and align. Meaning that when staff bring tables together for a large party, FLAT’s technologies can help eliminate that annoying ‘lip’ that’s created where the tables join.
“Usually for large gatherings, restaurants have to push tables together to accommodate the group, and there is usually a lip caused by the surface of the tables not aligning,” Mancell says. “Not only do items fall off the lip, but this also prevents restaurants from using tablecloths or using that space for plates or other items, causing more crowding at the table.”
While staff members often try to compensate for wobbly and misaligned tables by propping them up them with sugar packets, napkins or coasters, this is not a long-term solution and will need to be repeated every time the table moves. Additionally, at a time when consumers are paying more attention than ever to sanitation, seeing wait staff crawl on the floor doesn’t promote guest confidence in a restaurant’s hygiene.
“When wait staff attempt to stabilize a table, they have to put their hands on surfaces that are often hard to clean and accumulate grime, such as the bottom of the table or the floor around the base,” Mancell says. “But after they finish fixing the table, they then have to touch plates, glasses, and utensils, which is a huge transmission risk.”
Moreover, this work is often unpleasant for employees, whose clothes are dirtied in the process, and whose time could be better spent on customer service or operations during one of the most severe labor crunches in history. FLAT eliminates the need for this unhygienic and thankless task, improving efficiency for employees.
Best of all, using FLAT to fix wobbly tables can help restaurants improve their bottom lines by not only helping restaurants monetize previously unused spaces, such as sidewalks, but also by eliminating wasted payroll hours and reducing expenses. When tables no longer wobble, restaurants can reduce the number of napkins wasted on propping up tables, the number of broken dishes, the number of dry-cleaning bills from spills, and the need for comped meals.
“Unhappy customers likely need a replaced or a comped meal for a spill, and may potentially file lawsuits for injuries caused by wobbly tables,” Mancell says. “But the costliest expense is the lack of repeat business caused by a ruined dining experience and a bad social media review.”
Despite these massive savings, not every restaurant is ready to upgrade its tables. FLAT’s line up now includes FLAT® Equalizers. Equalizers allow brands to benefit from FLAT’s patented table stabilizing technology. Equalizers replace a table’s existing screw-in glides and stabilize it with a gentle press on the table top. They too, assist users in aligning adjoining table tops.
“Several operators we talked to said they’d recently bought their tables and didn’t want to replace them yet, though they loved the FLAT product,” says Andy O’Donnell, the company’s Global Marketing Director. “We responded by creating Equalizers—a retrofit solution available for existing tables.”
To help restaurants determine how much FLAT could help their bottom lines, the team has created an ROI calculator that allows brands to factor in considerations, such as their number of tables, locations, and more.
“Though the exact numbers vary based on a chain’s size, locations, and mix of on- and off-premises dining and current costs, some locations could save thousands of dollars per location. So if you extrapolate that across a large chain, you can actually see tremendous savings from FLAT,” O’Donnell says.
“You can see the way restaurant, bar, and hotel owners’ eyes light up in relief when they realize we’ve got a solution to a problem they face every day,” Mancell says. “FLAT is a game-changer in so many ways, and we’re excited to help restaurants spend more time doing what they do best: Creating a phenomenal dining experience.”
FLAT is available in over 50 countries and has stock available from dealers nationwide in the U.S. Visit FlatTech.com to learn more.