With apologies to Bob Marley, no one visiting your establishment wants to wait too long to be fed and watered. And with the volume and quality of the competition out there, speed of service has to be one of your business strong points.
It is around this time of the year that service in restaurants, sandwich bars and coffee shops needs to shift gears to keep your guest smiling and your operation profitable. At our place, the colder days and drizzly mornings mean our outdoor area is sadly closed for business. We don’t take bookings, so losing effectively a third of our available seating often results in a queue for tables. It happens every year but is always surprising to our guests. Also, at any time of the year sudden busy periods can quickly overwhelm our small kitchen.
We have found over the years that it is better, from our guests’ perspective, to lose a customer for a day due to an advised long wait for a free table than lose them forever through glacial service. Whether that is waiting to be seated, orders taken or food and beverages to arrive doesn’t matter. It all counts.
We are a breakfast and brunch joint and we often get large parties or too many guests getting seated at one time. Its natural. 9am to 2pm on the weekend is brunch time and our place is busy. Problem is, popularity can put your team and your systems under immense pressure and can erode your guest experience.
Here are some tactics we’ve used to help improve productivity in the kitchen and preserve sanity front of house when things get busy:
Do a pre-shift check and prep ahead of service
Prep, prep, prep! Prepping and pre-portioning before the shift begins is the most important factor in increasing the speed of dish production during service. Along with your manager and head chef, monitor your sales carefully and develop a checklist that you can use before the shift to make sure your kitchen is properly stocked and ready for the rush.
Use specials creatively to spread the workload
Identify when you are most likely to do heavy business in short time spans. For example, if your kitchen routinely gets slammed on the pans, then offer several specials that are produced at other stations like the sandwich or salad station. Never offer a special that will overload one team member at busy times!
Big party order management
A clever method for handling large groups is to divide the table into groups of no more than four guests (for our café) per ticket. Instead of assigning the same table number, add A, B, C, etc to the table number (i.e. table 1 would be numbered 1A, 1B, 1C etc). This tells the chefs that these tickets all go together but each smaller group is made separately, so that other tables in the café can get served without waiting for the entire big table to get made. Breaking orders down to manageable chunks keeps the pass clear and organised too.
Redesign your operation – temporarily
Although this may not be an option for some restaurants, sandwich bars and cafés, consider adding a temporary or portable cooking station to prep areas for handling overloads. There’s a lot of innovative, lightweight cooking kit available and many point of sale systems can temporarily redirect a menu item to another station. Consider adding a POS printer for the temporary station and, for designated periods of time, send all orders for specific dishes there instead of to the station that typically gets slammed.
Space your reservations and seating times
We don’t take bookings, but if you do using ‘reserved’ signs on your tables is a clever way to manage your waiting times without annoying your guests. If your kitchen design limits the number of dishes that can be prepared in a specific timeframe, then the only way to keep ticket times at acceptable levels may be to leave some tables open for a short period in order to increase guest satisfaction. If you have a sustained rush it is also a good time to get your front of house team to pass out samples and maybe get coffee and drinks orders moving while your guests wait.