Is your waitlist growing longer with no reprieve in sight? Do you have empty tables and people waiting to be seated? Are guests seated and anxiously awaiting their server?

These are just a few of the problems you’ll notice when it’s time to optimize table turnover.

How to Turn Over Tables in a Restaurant

Every second an empty table sits in your restaurant is lost potential revenue. Particularly during peak hours, your restaurant needs to be a well-oiled machine that aims to fill every seat in the house.

Learn how to turn over tables in a restaurant by optimizing the dining area and practicing a handful of helpful table management tips.

Revamp Your Dining Space

Believe it or not, an effective way to psychologically influence your guests without being pushy is to revamp your restaurant’s décor and ambiance.

According to Cornell University’s Stephani Robson, restauranteurs “must attract a high volume of guests by providing pleasing environments that offer moderately high arousal and a substantial amount of personal control.” What does this mean, exactly?

Adjusting ambient factors within a restaurant’s dining area can produce a positive guest experience while simultaneously encouraging them to leave within a reasonable time frame. Robson suggests the use of bold, warm colors, such as reds and golds, as primary decorative touches within a dining space.

Furthermore, fast-paced music played in the background at reasonable decibels (75 for younger crowds and lower for older groups) doesn’t disrupt conversation but does psychologically increase arousal and lead to quick table turnover.

Adjust Table Layout and Seating Options

Table layout plays a significant role in your customers’ comfort level, the perception of your establishment, and overall spend amount. Stephani Robson at Cornell University discussed the importance of seating and table layout in an interview with online magazine Restaurant Development + Design.

“In full-service restaurants, spent-per-minute is higher in booths than it is in other kinds of seating because people are psychologically more comfortable,” says Robson.

The takeaway from Robson’s expertise is that restaurants with tables may be better equipped to turn over tables faster than those with a mix of tables and booths. During peak hours, however, you can make the most of your booth real estate by placing groups of four or more there and placing couples at tables.

You want your guests to be comfortable, but not so comfortable that they won’t leave a table long after they’ve finished their meal. For restaurants with a lounge area, bar, or outdoor patio, this space can be designated for conversation and socializing. You can also offer a complimentary, post-meal drink or small dessert in exchange for moving to this designated area.

Of course, if the guests decline to move, don’t force the issue. However, an incentive is usually a good motivator to vacate the table.

SEE ALSO: How to Manage a Restaurant Business

Update Server Expectations and Training

If you run a small restaurant, you may not have a regimented training program for new hires that clearly outline your expectations and processes. Instead, you likely leverage the experience of seasoned servers to conduct shadowing and to train new hires.

The problem with this paradigm is that some directives can get lost in translation. To increase table turnover in your restaurant, hold a training session with all current staff members to communicate what you expect from them.

During training, let them know that you want them to make more money as much as you want your restaurant to be successful – and that means increasing table turnover. Implement the following standards to turn over tables quickly:

  • Servers must greet new tables within 60 seconds.
  • Ask guests if they have been to the restaurant before. If so, ask if they are ready to order; if not, ask if they have any questions.
  • If a table asks for an entrée recommendation from the menu during peak hours, choose the option provided by the customer that takes the least amount of time to prepare, such as an entrée-sized salad.
  • For peak hours, servers either need to help run food for one another, or a designated food runner needs to get food out to a table.
  • Communication between servers, hostesses, and bussers should be ongoing to streamline serving and clean up.
  • If not using an electronic POS or payment device accessed on the table, servers should drop the check after food is delivered.


Use a Point of Sale System

Communication, from the servers to the cooks, is critical for any restaurant. When it comes to table turnover rates, your ultimate goal is to shorten the time a guest spends from the moment they walk through the door to the moment they walk out all while delivering a positive dining experience. A cloud-based point of sale system is a tool used by every member of the team to accomplish this goal.

Acting as the glue that keeps your restaurant functioning smoothly, a POS is more than a payment tool; it’s a full-service restaurant management system. Use tableside mobile devices to expedite food preparation by sending orders directly to the kitchen. Then, keep track of open tickets and conduct check management from anywhere in the restaurant.

On the back end, ShopKeep tracks your restaurant’s peak hours, helps you forecast staffing needs, and offers insight into your best-selling menu items. A smart POS keeps you prepared to turn tables over faster, helps you keep customers happy, and positively impacts sales.

Employ Reservation & Large Party Management Techniques

Unless the restaurant specializes in fine dining, table reservations may not be beneficial to increase table turnover rate. If your party is late or doesn’t show, you’ve kept a table open without the benefit of revenue.

If you can’t avoid reservations, consider using an online reservation management tool to keep track of parties and project the amount of space needed to accommodate them. Implement the following suggestions to keep your large party satisfied while minimizing the amount of time they spend occupying the floor:

  • Designate two or more combinable tables that span at least two server sections. If a large party comes in or multiple tables need to be reserved, you already know which tables to use.
  • Avoid sitting walk-in guests at these tables unless it is a last resort to clear the waiting list.
  • If a large party or reservation does need the seating, the two servers assigned to the section in which these tables are placed will work the party.
  • Host staff should communicate with servers and bussers to advise when and if a large party has arrived. This will allow time for servers to finish serving other tables or ask for help as needed.


Deliver Amazing Service or Maximize Profit? You Can Do Both

Whether your restaurant specializes in fresh local fare, hearty breakfasts, or culinary creations fit for a king, there is no reason you need to sacrifice the quality of your guest’s experience to increase table turnover rates.

According to the National Restaurant Association, research suggests that by 2020 the majority of restaurants will utilize technology, like mobile payments, while still focusing on adding a personal touch to service quality. With our tips, you can effectively wow your guests with best-in-class service while remaining focused on productivity.

SEE ALSO: How to Attract More Restaurant Customers on the Cheap

Yamarie Grullon

Yamarie Grullon has years of experience creating helpful & engaging content for small business owners. As Director of Content Strategy at ShopKeep, a leading iPad Point of Sale System, Yamarie provides merchants with practical advice on all things related to business or point of sale.