What is in this article?:
- Get 'er done: 7 ways to speed up service
- See more tips from operators
Shaving even a little time from your service can pay off handsomely in the long run.
See more tips from operators
4. Stay in touch.
In an efficient restaurant, the front and back of the house need a way to talk during service.
LeFranc says communication is the only way to ensure that restaurants follow what he calls “the two-minute drill”: making sure no table is allowed to sit vacant for more than two minutes. Insisting on that kind of turnaround requires communication between the servers and hosting staff. A motivated server will be more likely to make sure tables in his/her section are occupied.
Jill Barron, executive chef and owner of Mana Food Bar in Chicago, credits constant contact with a smooth operation. “We have ‘on the fly’ and other written triggers that the servers use to prompt their service. When the kitchen starts getting slammed, the expeditor communicates that to the front-of-house manager, who checks and relays priorities,” she says.
Signals work for some. At Great Beginnings Café in Englewood, CO, guests being seated are asked for drink orders; the host or manager uses sign language to share the order with the server, who might be across the room.
Sometimes staying in touch is a matter of asking employees for solutions. “With 90 percent of the problems, employees have the answers,” LeFranc says. “If you tell them that guests think service is too slow, and ask them what the barriers to speeding it up are, they might say ‘we don’t have enough silverware or plates,’ or ‘the bartender is too slow.’ You just have to get them involved in the process.”
5. Be prepared.
Smart operators get creative about advance prep.
A popular bar, for example, is fantastic—unless it ends up being a bottleneck. Adam Seger, mixologist at Hum Spirits Company in Chicago, suggests selling batch-mixed drinks as a hedge against gridlock. “Batching craft cocktails like punches using fresh ingredients is a great way to serve a beautiful cocktail quickly and efficiently without slowing down service with muddling and building drinks to order,” he explains.
When it comes to food, some operators consider sous vide a godsend. “We sous vide our chicken, lamb and duck ahead of service so cooking time on the line is faster during service,” says chef/owner Carl Thorne-Thomsen of Chicago’s Story restaurant. He says the process saves four to six minutes per dish.
McGillin’s Olde Ale House in Philadelphia uses technology to expedite orders. A QSR screen prioritizes orders so the cooks start the items that take longest to cook first, followed by quicker items. Owner Chris Mullins, Sr. says the system has yielded better accuracy and made for a quieter kitchen. It’s also shaved lunch service time by five minutes per order—which adds up on a busy day, when there might be 250 covers.
6. Consider changes to layout and design.
Dan Maas, a principal at ai3, Inc., an Atlanta-based design firm with clients like Top Chef’s Richard Blais and James Beard honorees, says layout is a powerful tool to boost efficiency.
One key connection that many restaurants fail to make is the greeter/floor manager and the kitchen, Maas says. The kitchen needs to be able to convey when it’s in the weeds and cue the greeter to ask incoming guests to chill at the bar so the staff can catch up. If that can’t be done physically, it needs to be done with a radio or other communication device.
Maas also advises laying out a room to avoid bottlenecks at the POS and beverage stations. And he’s a fan of dividing rooms into smaller spaces, which force the servers to circulate more and check up on guests—preferable to a larger room with servers standing around monitoring the situation.
Lighting is another small but key factor in efficiency. “You don’t want to ruin the ambiance or any design aesthetic you are trying to achieve with lighting, but at the end of the day, you have to be able to read the menu,” Maas says. Otherwise the server will need to help guests read it. He suggests local lighting.
Furniture is another area that can have a subtle impact on speed of service—or at least of dining. Metal chairs without backs do not encourage guests to linger; comfy leather booths, on the other hand, do.
7. Insist on vigilant managers.
LeFranc says many managers don’t understand the nuances of service. He suggests having managers shadow servers so they see the dynamics, the cues and so on. That knowledge will help them manage the flow and intervene when necessary to speed things along.
Service involves many stages, and too often a restaurant staff does everything well—up until the end. We’ve all experienced the “I’ve had dinner, dessert and coffee. Where the heck is the check?” moment, Turner observes. Forgetting to present the check and collect payment not only frustrates the guest but misses an opportunity to turn over a table. Training and an on-the-ball manager will help avoid that kind of lapse.