At Arch Rock Fish, the host directly influences profitability.
Do you leaving the hosting duties to a new hire? Does your restaurant fail to have rules about timing? You may be leaving money on the table. Consultant Jeremiah Higgins of HJL Restaurant Advisors, an operations veteran whose company owns three seafood concepts in Southern California, stresses these two rules to improve your profit picture.
1. The host or hostess should be your secret weapon.
It’s a very basic rule that’s often overlooked: An empty seat equals a lost chance for revenue. Yet the assignment to fill those seats all too often goes to a very young, inexperienced and untrained person.
“I look at that host as the most valuable position in the restaurant,” Higgins says. “That is the first person the guest meets, and the last person the guest typically sees.” He says well-trained hosts who are critical thinkers and can operate under pressure are invaluable.
The host also determines how efficiently tables are assigned. If you know your average revenue per seat per hour, you can do the math and realize how much you are losing when a host seats a couple at a four-top. Ineffective seating also can extend wait times for other guests.
Software such as OpenTable can help manage seating demands properly. Training also pays off, especially in a busy location. “A slow night can turn into a busy one quickly, and if you don’t have the seats, you can lose business,” he says.
Even the short walk to the table is an opportunity to seed sales. Higgins trains servers to chat up guests; ask if they are visiting for the first time; talk about the menu or drink specials; hand them menus and point out personal favorites.
Software can also help hosts rotate tables properly to even out the load among servers. It can track preferences of regular guests, and e-mail targeted offers to guests who have shown preferences for wine, for example.
2. Neglected tables slow down turnover.
One of HJL’s concepts, Arch Rock Fish, employs a table marker system. The host writes the guest’s name, the number in the party and notes whether it’s a special occasion, then leaves the marker—a small coaster—on the corner of the table. All servers understand that the marker means the party has not been greeted, and they work as a team. “Our goal is to greet everyone within 30 seconds and either take drink orders or go over the specials—even if that’s not the server’s table,” he says. Drinks arrive within two to three minutes, appetizers within five, entrees 10-12 minutes after that. “People are finished before the hour is up, and they don’t feel rushed,” Higgins says. Busboys are trained to clear tables and reset them within one minute.
To keep everyone on track, every department undergoes rigorous training, clocks are installed throughout the restaurant and the front-of-house staffers function as a team. “It all works out because everyone is helping,” Higgins says. “What goes around comes around.” In the back of house, only the expeditor talks to the chef. He or she ensures all the plates are clean, consistent, cooked as ordered and garnished correctly before they are delivered to tables. The expeditor communicates with the chef constantly, letting him or her know how much time is left on an order. “We don’t want boomerangs (dishes sent back) because that will slow down service and slow that table turn,” he says. Our goal is to get people served quickly without them knowing it’s happening. The guests think they are getting great service.”
What about parties that linger? If you ensure you are seating correctly and assume that larger groups will probably spend more time, it should not slow down the overall service. On busy holidays—Valentine’s or Mothers’ Day, for example, his restaurant will let callers making reservations know that they have a 90-minute window for their reservation. “If you call it a seating with a time limit, most everybody understands and they don’t complain," Higgins explains. "Just communicating with guests on those big holidays is key.”