Imagine it. Your restaurant gets an unexpected rush of customers.
Great news! That means business is doing well — but the bad news is that your servers and kitchen staff are slammed.
How can you guarantee that your service is efficient, even when your restaurant is busy? How can you keep your customers happy, even if they have to wait longer than expected? The answer might be in optimizing your operational processes, while also upgrading the technology you use to run your front and back-of-house.
In this post, we’ll cover:
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Training and scheduling your staff effectively is one of your most effective tools for reducing wait times and keeping customers happy if they do need to wait.
Pre-schedule your staff
Creating clear assignments and scheduling the right employees is the first step towards reducing wait times effectively. Make planning each phase of your workday easier with pre-scheduling. Preparing a pre-schedule will help you sort out table assignments and choose the right employees for each shift. Make decisions about where to position each staff member wisely by putting them to work in their best capacity.
On the subject of scheduling, always make sure you have enough staff to cover each shift. Being understaffed can increase wait times, and it can also stress your employees out. During a workweek lunch rush hour, you’ll have customers who only have a one hour break before they have to return to their jobs. Keeping your business well staffed, and even overstaffed during exceptionally high volume periods, will help you get through the rush with ease while making a tremendous difference in your wait times.
Although overstaffing cuts down on wait times, there is one potentially adverse effect. It can derail a restaurant’s bottom line, reducing profits by increasing labor costs. Therefore, it’s smart to identify the number of staff you need for a shift that allows you to balance speedy service with profitability.
If you’re new to the restaurant business, this might take some time to figure out. And you can always err on the side of operating with fewer staff members if you’re comfortable jumping into the mix to help out either the front-of-house or back-of-house. Once you understand your labor needs, you can create a “set it and forget it” schedule that provides a balance in staffing that will not lead to a loss in profits.
Train and train again
Training your restaurant staff ensures what every restaurant owner wants, an organized and fast-moving shift. Whether it’s lunchtime or dinner time, your crew will be able to handle high traffic pressure. Having a well-trained staff and food that arrives at the table in a reasonable amount of time will attract more customers to your business. Additionally, providing your team with extensive customer service training will ensure that they’re always capable of managing customers as quickly as possible.
Reduce staff apathy
When customers see staff sitting around or casually chatting, they become irritated while they’re waiting for service. Maybe the customer has to get back to work, or perhaps they’re trying to make it to a movie before the opening credits. Seeing unconcerned staffers sitting around idly, makes customers lose their confidence in your restaurant. Task the restaurant manager on duty with the task of encouraging staff to put a sweater over their uniform or change outfits entirely, before they sit down to chat. Even better, provide a comfortable staff lounge that they can use to rest their weary feet during their breaks.
Making adjustments to the way you run your restaurant is another effective way to reduce wait times and keep your customers happy.
It might seem obvious in retrospect, but not all restaurants accept reservations. This won’t help guests that show up without one, but it does give your customers a way to avoid a long wait if they plan in advance. To cut down on staffing costs, consider using an online reservation system. There are many tools that integrate with your restaurant’s website to facilitate restaurant creation, and solutions like OpenTable allow guests to create reservations right from their smartphone.
Providing your customers with visual distractions will create the illusions of faster wait times. A television hanging above the tables or a jukebox that plays old rock and roll music in the background will help your customers forget how long they’ve been waiting. Be sure to include activities for families as well. Nothing makes a wait seem longer than it actually is quite like temperamental children.
SMS (text marketing) tools
While customers are looking at pictures of old trains, former celebrity guests or collectible memorabilia, let SMS alerts tell them when their table is ready. The best part is that you can also use SMS to track wait times, which will help you keep a better eye on the efficiency of your team.
Offer free food
Nothing brightens up an unhappy customer’s day like free food and drink. Be prepared to offer both when the situation calls for it.
Prepare a few snacks that you know customers will enjoy in advance. These little appetizers are an easy prep, and they’ll keep your customers busy in your waiting area while they queue up for their main seats. As they snack away over a salad or bread, they’ll soak up the ambiance of your restaurant while they forget all about the wait time.
That said, you still want the customer to enjoy their main meal, so make sure the snacks you’re providing aren’t too overfilling. After all, they’re only intended to provide your customers with a little distraction and something to do while they wait to be seated.
Put someone on drink duty
When you have a lineup, the last thing you want to see is customers getting tired of waiting and leaving. Providing a refreshing beverage on a hot day makes your patrons feel appreciated, and might even entice them to hang around, regardless of how long they have to wait for a table or their meal.
Mobility means efficiency
One big advantage of a mobile POS system is, of course, its inherent mobility. Wait staff can forget about writing orders on paper, processing those orders at the cash register and then sending it to the kitchen. If you ask us, that’s a few steps too many.
Instead, equip your wait staff with iPads to process orders. They can send easy-to-read digital order receipts to the kitchen or bar in real-time. This simplified process enables staff to focus on creating memorable customer experiences, not logistics. No paper, no fuss. Process customer orders anywhere, fast!
Self-order menus are the perfect solution for restaurants that want to offer quick service. An iPad at the dining table lets customers’ submit their order autonomously. What’s better is that they get a recap of their order’s details right then and there, fully avoiding those dreaded words, “this isn’t what I ordered”.
Being able to personalize your digital menu with high-quality photos, paired with the ability to cross-sell menu items based on the customer’s existing order, helps increase the average amount of money a customer spends (would you like a salty snack to accompany that delicious cocktail?).
Moreover, self-order menus help minimize order mistakes. The bottom line is that self-order menus are a fast, efficient, effective way to boost both sales while improving your customer experience.
Improve table turnover
Table turnover is the timeframe that a table is occupied by a customer from arrival to departure. During rush hour, your goal is to minimize the time a customer occupies a table, so you can serve as many as possible (without making them feel rushed). The best way to achieve this is by minimizing the amount of time they wait to submit, receive, and pay for their order.
There are some pretty questionable methods being used to get customers to leave faster: loud and fast music, red and yellow decor to subconsciously signal to eat faster…the truth is that you can do better than pseudo-environmental psychology, and it starts with using the right tools.
“All the orders go straight to the kitchen. The food comes out faster, which means I turn my tables quicker, because there’s less lag time. And if I can turn my tables quicker, that means I see more people and I make more money. The revenue has double since we implemented Lightspeed. It’s been really, really helpful.”
– David Pearse, Shepherd & Dog
Tools like mobile payment systems and self-order menus not only enable you to offer amazing service but also improve your table turnover and wait-times by a considerable amount. So if you’re looking to optimize your restaurant’s workflows, while improving your customer experience, we’d love to chat. Talk to one of our experts to find out how Lightspeed can help you offer amazing customer service.