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R&IEditorial Archives2003November 1 — Operations

Timing Table Turns
Flow control requires communication among floor, kitchen and host staff

Time is money when it comes to managing table turns. To maximize revenue while ensuring that guests are not hurried out the door, optimal table counts, staffing levels and even kitchen throughput require careful assessment—and sometimes adjustment.

As an experiment at one of its 13 casual-dining restaurants, Abuelo’s Mexican Food Embassy restaurants reduced the number of tables, simplified entrées and cut some floor staff. The Lubbock, Texas-based chain liked what it learned and has altered operations and expansion plans accordingly.

In the dining room, the number of tables was reduced to 58 from 62, and total seat count was cut to 212 from 255, says Dirk Rambo, chief operating officer for Abuelo’s International. More two-tops, four-tops and banquette seating were added. Round tables for eight to 10 were history.

In the kitchen, entrées that required three or more pans or extra fuss were retired or reworked. A labor-intensive entrée of red snapper with shrimp, for example, was replaced with grilled mahi mahi.

Staff efficiency and table turns both increased, with orders executed in nine minutes instead of 14. The average time diners spent at a table dropped to 52 minutes from 62, while the check average rose to $15 from $12.

“When we dropped to 212 seats, efficiency improved. The kitchen didn’t crash. We trimmed space needs by 1,200 square feet,’’ Rambo says.

The company intends to add 39 more units by 2007. “If we wanted to grow fast, we needed to become more efficient,’’ Rambo says. He estimates the company can reduce future capital expenditure by $1 million through planning smaller, more-efficient units that require fewer employees.

Wait-list management
Hosts and hostesses are the ultimate traffic-flow cops at Houston-based Joe’s Crab Shack’s more than 120 restaurants. The average table-turn time is one hour, according to Richard Ervin, executive vice president of restaurant operations. Communication among the front desk, floor managers and bus staff is critical. At Joe’s, managers use headsets and handheld and overhead paging to keep in touch while walking dining rooms every 10 minutes to evaluate table status. “Everyone pitches in,’’ Ervin says. “If necessary, managers bus a table to keep things moving.’’

Parties waiting for tables in the bar are alerted five to 10 minutes early in order for them to clear bar tabs and proceed to the hostess stand. “If you wait for the customers to pay their bar bills while the table sits empty and ready, you slow the flow,’’ says Ervin. “You want to have two to three parties standing at the hostess stand, ready to be seated. When the hostess tells them personally their table is being prepared, they don’t mind.’’

Table turnover at Gladstone’s Malibu in Los Angeles depends on weather and the season. The 800-seat beachside restaurant has a 250-seat outdoor deck and a no-reservations policy. In summer, deck-table turns can take up to two hours; off-season, it drops to 75 minutes.

“We’re blunt with customers about the wait,’’ explains Robert Kissinger, general manager. “I’d rather tell them the truth upfront and lose a customer at the door than at the table.’’

Diners lingering three to four hours at tables on the deck rail is not uncommon. “If we need a table badly, we go to customers on bended knee and beg them for the table in return for drinks or dessert at the bar,” Kissinger says. “Ninety percent of the time they oblige. People like to be part of the solution.”

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