Controlling the dinner rush



We are a casual upscale restaurant. We take reservations and have some walk in guests as well. On our busier nights it seems as though all the checks come into the kitchen at the same time and the line is bombarded with getting all the orders out at once. Is there any surefire way to seat our guests to control the flow?

– Pete Nowak, Executive Chef, The Speedway Club, Charlotte, NC


First, congratulations on being busy. As my grandmother would say, “If that’s your biggest problem, you’re in good shape.” To be sure, it’s unpleasant for the kitchen to be slammed and in the weeds, especially if it drags on for some time and impacts on the guest experience as they wait too long for a seat or food.

There are certainly things you can do to help to alleviate this problem in the front of house such as offering fewer seats on your reservation system, spacing reservations further apart, or running promotions during off-peak times like early evening or late night happy hour. Ultimately though, such rushes are often unavoidable, especially if you are located, as you are, near a major attraction.

Like a lot of chefs, your solution to this problem is to ask the front-of-house to control the flow. While that may be possible, it will probably dip into your revenue to do anything of impact.

The real problem is one of capacity. You have too much demand during peak times for your kitchen capacity. Stated that way, there may be some simple things you can do to increase capacity. For example, I was once asked to consult to a restaurant having a similar problem. The fix? As easy as an additional fryer to take pressure off a single station with a single piece of equipment.

The best way to solve this problem is to watch what happens when the orders come in fast to see where the bottlenecks are. They can often be remedied by:

  • Additional staff. Sometimes you just need an extra set of hands during peak periods.
  • Menu adjustments. Is one station busier than others? If the grill gets slammed, can a menu item be prepared differently to move to a different station?
  • Equipment. Does your equipment have the capacity to accommodate demand?
  • Plate ups. Are too many of the menu items cooked a la minute? Are there items you can add or change to batch cooking? For example, can you replace a long-cooking steak with a ready-to-plate braised short rib?

Once you have identified the holdup you can determine if the fix has a worthwhile return-on-investment. Judging from your frustration, I would guess it would.