Managing the wait

Flipping tables and seating guests is a dance, requiring a mix of attention and tech to keep the pace.

With the rollout of apps sending real-time wait times to customers’ smartphones, the pressure on operators to keep tables turning is greater than ever, but its hardly a new concern. “Making guests happy and balancing aggressive seating is an art,” says Adam Robin, director of operations for Cabo Flats Cantina & Tequila Bar, with four locations in South Florida. “This is more important than any piece of technology and extremely difficult to teach.”

It’s especially important, he adds, in large plazas, where guests can walk in, see a wait, and then walk out and go somewhere else. “You have to have your hand on the pulse of the restaurant,” says Robin, who puts managers at the front door on busy nights. “Even then, the balancing act can be successful one night and a struggle the next.”  

To keep the pace, some operators are reaching back to the kitchen. Jeff Carcara, chief operating officer at Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group, recently told shareholders on a conference call that its Del Frisco’s Grille concept has begun reengineering parts of the menu and changing recipes to tighten up prep times and get food to guests sooner, quickening table turns.

Others are tightening seating strategies and making sure guests are entertained while they wait. “Being happy and engaging is half the battle,” says Robin. 

Keep ’em close and caffeinated. 

“It’s our job to create an awesome environment that doesn’t feel like a 45-minute wait,” says Heather Beckman, general manager of Silver Grill Cafe in Fort Collins, Colo. By doubling the size of its patio and adding seating, blankets, a fire pit, cinnamon-roll samples and free coffee on weekends, the team created a comfortable, year-round space for waiting guests.

Tighten up check returns.

Dickie Brennan’s restaurants in New Orleans have shaved upwards of 10 minutes off table turnovers by switching to a digital pay-at-the-table check presenter. “The system is intuitive, so we encourage servers to explain it briefly, then leave,” says Derek Nettles, director of IT for the group.

Let them get in line from afar. 

At Datz, Dough, and Roux, a trio of restaurants in Tampa, Fla., guests can queue up from anywhere by sending a text message to the restaurant, getting a wait time in return and putting their party on the wait list without setting foot inside. (It’s a service promoted on their websites). “[Guests] can go on with their other activities until it’s time to claim their table,” says co-owner Suzanne Perry. “And if they’re running late, they can text in and move their place in line.” 

Don’t seat incomplete parties. 

Allowing parties to “park” until other members show means everybody else waits longer. It could be 20 minutes before they get there,  Beckman notes. “In that time, we’ll have another group seated and eating. It’s a strategy that’s been extremely successful for us,” she says.

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