At OpenTable, we know restaurants — because we’ve been there. A survey of more than 200 members of our field team showed that just about all of them have worked in restaurants at some point, and cumulatively they’ve logged more than 1,700 years of restaurant experience, front of house and back of house.
That’s why when restaurants ask Account Managers for tips on operating their businesses better, we’re there to help. We talked to Chris Shaw, who manages many of our national accounts, to learn his best practices for table management, from turn times to party sizes and beyond.
“There’s not one set of guidelines from OpenTable to help people set up their books,” says Chris. “That’s why I exist! We like to get down to the local level and customize books by location, because every restaurant is different.”
Keeping those differences between locations and concepts in mind is key to managing your floor successfully. Here are five tips to consider.
1. Match your party size to your location. A New York City restaurant will likely have more two-tops than one in a family-oriented destination area, such as Orlando. In Orlando, you need to have every table combination available, but the NYC restaurant shouldn’t hold out for big tables. Doing so will limit the number of two-tops and four-tops you can accommodate, which will be the bulk of your business.
2. Open your books to larger parties at shoulder times. Restaurants tend to be hesitant about accommodating large parties of 10 or more, but consider the day and time before making any blanket decisions. Between your opening hours and 6-7 p.m., Chris recommends showing the most availability online that you possibly can. If a party of 20 is willing to come in at 5:30 p.m. on a Monday, wouldn’t you want them to book with you? “It only takes one of those a month to increase your revenue in a significant way,” says Chris.
3. Adjust turn times within shifts. Not every table for two is going to dine at the same pace. In the OpenTable system you can adjust turn times by guest or reservation so your floor plan accurately reflects dining patterns. The party that comes in at 5 p.m. may dine in an hour, while one at 7:30 may take two hours — the kitchen and servers are at full capacity, so service moves more slowly.
4. Pay attention to the time in between seatings at a table. Ultimately you can’t control turn times; you can only give your best guess. What you can control is the time it takes to seat a new party at a table after the previous one gets up. Chris says that’s where restaurants often lose the most money, as tables are sitting open. Strategize ways to close that two- or four-minute gap, and you could open up enough inventory for a full turn on a table. His suggestion: Don’t wait until the table is clean and set before calling the guest. Instead, let them know (by calling or through our Waitlist Texting feature) that their table should be ready shortly, and invite them to head back to the host stand.
5. Keep track of reservations. When Chris was managing restaurants, he printed chits for each of his servers with the guest name, the table, and any notes about the booking. Then he would require each server to mark specific details about this specific experience — things like turn times — and return the chit to the host. That way when the same guest came back, he could see if they were quick diners or if they preferred to take their time and adjust the turn time accordingly.
Photo Credit: Erin Kunkel