How to Turn Tables Quickly at Your Restaurant During the Holiday Rush

Ready to feed an influx of festive shoppers? Follow these tips to stay on top of the rush this holiday season.
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Avoid holiday rush mishaps — like running out of ingredients and lengthy wait times — by creating a streamlined holiday menu. (Photo: Marchie/SewCream/Shutterstock)

It’s that time of year again — holiday shopping season — and businesses nationwide are hanging the holly and offering holiday deals and discounts.

But retailers aren’t the only ones who need to prepare for an influx of customers. While out celebrating the season or buying gifts for family and friends, shoppers are also dining out more.

As a restaurant owner, you need to ensure that you are avoiding long lines out the door while giving your customers an excellent dining experience. Here are four tips to help you achieve these goals by turning tables quickly during the holiday rush.

Hold pre-shift team meetings

When you’re dealing with a flood of holiday shoppers coming into your restaurant, you need all hands on deck. Get your entire team is on the same page by holding pre-shift meetings, advised Dean Small, founder and managing partner of Synergy Restaurant Consultants.

“You will get everybody on board. Everybody will understand how teamwork is so important to the guest experience,” he said. “People need to help each other out by running food and pre-busing tables. If a waiter pre-buses a table [while the guests are still there], busing will go quicker because there won’t be many dishes on the table.”

Remember, how efficiently and cooperatively your team functions can make the difference of thousands of dollars for a busy shift.

Related: How to Get the Most Out of Your Restaurant Team Meetings

Utilize the host/hostess station

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Create a comfortable waiting atmosphere at your restaurant and use your hostess stand to serve free coffees and water. (Photo: weedezign/Shutterstock)

Lines at your restaurant can mean business is booming, which shows passersby that your place is popular. But no one relishes having to stand in one before they can sit down and order.

During the holidays, wait times at your restaurant will likely be longer than normal, so it’s important to have a plan in place to keep customers from leaving when there’s a line.

Terri Marshall, project coordinator and consultant for Absolute Restaurant Consultants, recommended leveraging your host or hostess to tide guests over while they wait. For instance, have your staff offer complimentary lemonade, iced tea and coffee, while diners are waiting to be seated.

Marshall also recommended keeping the specials board and extra menus near the host stand so customers can plan their orders while they wait — which also turns their table quickly for the next party.

Simplify your menu and limit substitutions

Another way to turn tables swiftly is by limiting your menu options and keeping substitutions at a minimum.

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“When you narrow some of the selection, you are better able to execute an order and make sure you don’t run out of product.” -Terri Marshall (Photo: Terri Marshall)

A smaller menu “streamlines the flow of the order taking process as well as the back of house process,” said Marshall. “Having these logistics working like a well-oiled machine speeds up the process of getting orders to the guests, thus the dining process is shortened.”

Related: How to Change Your Restaurant’s Menu

While swapping a couple ingredients may seem harmless, on high-volume days, it can slow down your process, noted Stuart Fierman, director of Fifth Group Restaurants.

“If you have a lot of requests like that, it can snowball and almost freeze up an operation, causing a dramatic slowdown in ticket times and guest service,” he said. “When you narrow some of the selection, you are better able to execute an order and make sure you don’t run out of product.”

Focus on the quality of the experience

Tim Doolittle, chef and consultant who formerly worked with celebrity chefs Emeril Lagasse and Wolfgang Puck, advocates focusing on the dining experience, rather than fixating on speed and quick table turning.

Related: 4 Ways Restaurants Are Creating a More Authentic Experience

If you have to choose between providing a mediocre dining experience for a large number of people or cut back and give fewer guests a great dining experience, Doolittle said to choose the latter.

“Focus on the experience and not on the sales,” he said. “You need to give your customers an experience they won’t forget.”

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