The Art of Effective Restaurant Table Management

Management 14 minute read 15 March 2021

During the COVID-19 pandemic, 83% of adults revealed that they weren’t eating out as much as they wanted to. And that’s a key notion; consumers want to dine out.

Great news hey? But this hunger for hospitality also means that restaurateurs need to be on the top of their game when it comes to venue management. New obstacles like including social distancing measures along with outdoor dining logistics have made it more important than ever to maintain control of your venue.

Details matter. We know it, you know it, your customers definitely know it. One restaurant management detail that sometimes gets overlooked is table management. Another one of those ‘well that’s how we’ve always done it’’ areas that could actually make a huge difference to the experience of every diner.

In this guide, we’ll look at table management in detail. We don’t have any affiliation to table management systems or software, so we’ll take you on an impartial journey to help you consider which path your venue should take (if any!).

What is table management?

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Table management is a feature found in most modern guest management and POS systems. Users are presented with a bird’s eye view of the restaurant which can be accessed from a POS terminal, back-office computer or handheld device such as an iPad.

This floorplan is designed to help restaurant teams improve the flow of guests. It should directly benefit front of house operations by instantly revealing the status of every single table. Pick the right table management system, and you’ll be able to see which are expecting incoming bookings, those that are waiting for dessert and the areas which need to be cleaned.

Table management systems also enable the front of house team to swiftly move people into the restaurant by quickly glancing at the size of available tables and their suitability for each party.

In fact, we recommend that table management should feature in every restaurant employee handbook so that the processes you’ve put in place can be quickly referenced by everyone who works at the venue. It’s that important.

Do you need a table management system?

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With the technology needed to run a table management system becoming more affordable by the day, the benefits for most restaurants are hard to ignore (we’ll get onto the specifics in a moment).

Whether or not you need a table management system comes down to the size of your venue and the perceived effect it’ll have on the guest experience. A proper table management system will ensure guests are seated quickly and fed efficiently, it’s definitely worth the investment. And the same goes for your staff - the more in control of the venue they feel, the happier they’ll be. There will be hard choices to make, however. Removing tables might actually help match the maximum output of your kitchen and improve team performance.

There are, of course, venues where table management is probably an investment (both monetary and time-wise) that can be avoided.

For instance, if you’re running a small cafe or restaurant from which you can view the state of play easily, referring to a digital version of your floorplan is probably going to be overkill.

However, most POS systems come with some form of table management, even if it’s not the bird’s eye view we’ve been referring to in this guide. If you’re running a particularly small venue, just the presence of a table listing on your POS terminal might be enough to raise the efficiency of your front of house operation.

The benefits of table management

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So, we know why table management is important, but what benefits are you likely to experience in your restaurant day-in, day-out?

The benefits of table management can be summed up in three key areas.

- Inventory management: Tables are inventory, just as much as the contents of your freezer is. With table management, you can make your space work harder for you, increase covers by avoiding misused tables and analysing your turn times.

- Planning: Imagine entering every shift with a clear plan of what needs to be done and an unfiltered view of incoming bookings. That’s the kind of viability you gain from a table management system.

- Guest satisfaction: If you can immediately see which tables are free, guests will be subjected to virtually no wait times. Equally, you’ll be able to provide wait times which are more accurate than ever before.

It’s all about reservation flow, managing guest expectations and finding opportunities which would otherwise have been missed. Without a table management system, these tasks are harder the bigger and busier you get.

5 table management tips

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If you can master table management, you’ll run a more profitable restaurant with an army of loyal fans.

Here are five tips for making restaurant management work for you, rather than the other way round.

1. Analyse the data and share it with your team One of the best things about table management software is that it provides shed loads of data about your restaurant operation.

It’ll reveal where you’re nailing the process and where the team is falling short. Share this insight with them; show them instances where tables are waiting too long between courses. Reveal when spare tables have been missed for a walk-in. The more insight they receive, the better they’ll become as a team.

2. Work out your table turnover rate Your table turnover rate is essentially how long guests occupy tables. It can be calculated for any time window and will help immeasurably with your table management.

The formula is:

Table Turnover Rate = Number of Seatings ÷ Number of Tables

So, if your lunch shift runs between 12pm to 3pm and you sit 20 parties across six tables, your table turnover rate would be three turns per table.

3. Distribute covers evenly across the restaurant To avoid overwhelming front of house staff, make it standard practice to split up the seating plan and arrange guests so that the entire dining space is filled systematically.

This not only makes the space easier to manage, but it also creates a sense of vibrancy and busyness, even when you’re quieter than usual.

4. Size your tables based on expected demand The more data you obtain from your table management system, the more you’ll be able to accurately plan for demand.

There’s nothing worse than wasted table space, therefore based on historical data, make sure you plan out the size of your tables to satisfy the likely demand. For instance, if, during summer, you’ve historically welcomed more families, tune your table layout and sizes to reflect that.

5. Don’t forget to listen to your customers Data only tells half the story. Nothing beats gaining feedback from guests.

Sure, you may think you’ve mastered the art of table management, but how confident are you that guests think the same? Have you asked them? Make it a point to run regular satisfaction surveys and ask waiting staff to seek feedback from the guests they serve.

What kind of table management system do you need?

We’ve referred to both overhead table planning systems and list-based table management in this guide.

This begs the question: which one is right for you?

The answer is pretty simple. Focus firstly on finding the right POS system and online table booking platform, because one (possibly, both) will come with some form of table management option.

You’ll probably find that the bundled table management platform will suit you perfectly, not least because they’re becoming more sophisticated and widely available as the technology becomes commoditised.

It’s also worth thinking about how you can use the other systems in your venue to aid with table management. For instance, if you use a system like Beambox for your guest WiFi service, you could possibly integrate with your table booking system to enable guests to quickly book tables directly from any emails you send them.

Beambox guide: Restaurant Guide to Online Table Booking Systems

Balancing booked and walk-ins

Before we go, a quick note on the importance of balancing booked tables with walk-ins, because this plays a significant role in your ability to manage tables correctly (whatever system you’re using).

Reserved tables are great, because, generally speaking, that means a guaranteed booking. It also means the guest knows what to expect when they turn up. The problems arise when you experience no-shows. In such instances, that can leave you with empty tables and no backup plan.

There are plenty of ways to deal with no-shows in a restaurant, but your ability to effectively handle walk-ins will go a long way to resolving the issue, too. By using historical booking data to anticipate walk-ins, you can use the bird’s eye view gained from a table management system to efficiently seat those guests when they appear.

Finding the balance requires effort before each shift to accurately map out table reservations and anticipate where you may need some filler from walk-ins. If the entire team is working in harmony with this, then you should maintain a far better balance between the two types of booking - and a fuller restaurant, to boot!

We hope this guide to table management has helped. If you’re just starting your restaurant journey, don’t forget to check out our related guide, below.

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