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A two top trumps a four

Can a quick seating change can boost sales? A yearlong review of weekend business at Nacional 27 in Chicago showed that many tables for four were seated with just two diners, so they replaced some of those four-tops with two-tops—and boosted Friday and Saturday night sales up to 10 percent. New Year's Eve can be among a restaurant's highest-grossing nights of the year—or a big headache. To avoid the latter, Randy Zweiban, chef-partner at the Latin-themed Nacional 27, carefully went over his reservation list to plot the seating chart for December 31.

Problem

A yearlong review of weekend business shows that many tables for four are seated with just two diners.

Solution

Replace some of those four-tops with two-tops—and boost Friday and Saturday night sales up to 10 percent.

New Year's Eve can be among a restaurant's highest-grossing nights of the year—or a big headache. To avoid the latter, Randy Zweiban, chef-partner at the Latin-themed Nacional 27 in Chicago, carefully went over his reservation list to plot the seating chart for December 31. While using the Open Table reservation software to reconfirm bookings, he decided to track his reservation pattern for all of 2005. And that's where he made a surprising discovery.

"I realized that many of our Friday and Saturday night reservations were for parties of two, but they were seated at four-tops," Zweiban says. "We were taking only 350 reservations for a 400-seat restaurant."

So a few weeks into this year, he mixed things up and replaced a handful of four-tops with two-tops. "We have been able to add six to eight more people in the restaurant for two turns on Friday and Saturday nights," Zweiban reports. "That's 26 to 32 additional guests each weekend. Multiply that by the check average [$40 with drinks] and you do the math."

A few months after the reconfiguration, the math got even better. Some two-tops were turning over three times due to pre-theater bookings. Certain servers may get fewer covers, but at the end of the weekend, it usually averages out. And tips are sometimes better due to higher turnover.

Even guests come out winners. "The additional money we take in... allows us to keep our menu prices stable," Zweiban explains. "The extra covers make up for the increase in taxes, minimum wage and food costs."

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