More With Less: How To Manage Your Restaurant Capacity
On what feels like year four of quarantine, any platitudes to try and describe the pandemic’s impact on the industry feel hollow. Despite the initial research, the coronavirus spread did not subside in the warmer months, with cases spiking instead. Loosened restrictions have started to tighten back up, with the maximum restaurant capacity again lowered to reduce the spread of the contagion. In response, many restaurants have spaced their interior seating, embraced their outdoor spaces, and pivoted to off-premise as their new normal. With each presenting unique challenges, knowing how to manage your restaurant capacity best is crucial to continued success.
What was once the bread-and-butter of many restaurants has taken the biggest hit of all: in-house traffic. With local governments restricting restaurant capacity, the total number of customers who can come in has dramatically decreased. Even in the best of times, profit margins in restaurants are notoriously tight, so any reduction in restaurant capacity can prove catastrophic to your budget. Let’s look at a few ways to make the most of a desperate situation.
Reading the Room
Your first step in assessing your indoor space is to survey your available real estate to determine how to meet modern safety standards. Before you do anything, consult either the Center for Disease Control (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO) to determine accepted best practices to maintain a safe distance. Keep in mind that the virus is airborne and is spreadable through air conditioning, so take the appropriate precautions with your interior ventilation system whenever possible.
Once you’ve determined how many tables and seating areas can remain, mark off every table that cannot with tape or by flipping the chairs onto the tables. Ideally, with sufficient outdoor space and the right furniture, you can move your indoor seating outside, to optimize your usage and lower any potential costs in enhancing your outdoor seating.
Turning Tables Through Technology
Speed of service has always been an important part of the business, but it has never been more critical with restaurant capacity minimized. Fortunately, some well-established tools can help. A robust kitchen display system (KDS) can improve your speed of service by preventing bottlenecks in the back-of-house.
A feature-rich waitlist and table management solutionm can optimize your front-of-house by helping you manage seating arrangements to maximize your available space. As guests finish their meals, your restaurant management platform alerts your host station as tables open up. You are likely (painfully!) aware of your current restaurant capacity, and a guest management system is valuable in helping control the influx of patrons. In fact, some restaurants have even made reservations a requirement to mitigate the possibility of crowds.
The right technology can help you maintain a safer, cleaner, and socially distanced environment. For example, guest management, KDS platforms, and recipe viewer tech can serve as reminder tools. You can program many of these systems to send out blind items for cleaning and sanitation to ensure that extra bit of safety.
One major way that operators have combated diminishing restaurant capacity is to expand outdoor seating. Many cities around the U.S. have worked with restaurants to help them obtain the proper permits, although there have been some cautionary tales. Typically a seasonal move, outdoor seating is safer but can present a few obstacles like public safety to speed-of-service.
As with your interior setup, outdoor seating requires preparation. In the U.S., the legal requirements for outdoor expansion vary from place-to-place depending on where you live. For the most part, local governments have been helpful and receptive to aiding with this transition outside, but ensure that you check with the proper administrators in your area first. As with indoor seating, consult your prevailing health authorities to ensure that you remain compliant with contemporary anti-virus precautions.
Once those critical steps are out of the way, take stock of what you need outdoors. Do you have the proper tables or furniture for your patio or sidewalk area? Are they weather resistant? If not, are you prepared to move them in case of inclement weather, and do you have anywhere to relocate them? Are they safe outside after hours from trespassers, or do you require chains and locks? Again, make a quick checklist of the most pertinent items, and plan accordingly.
Planning for Longer Trips
Outdoor and socially distanced seating has become the norm with quarantine protocols. That seating adds extra steps and can decrease your overall table turn times. There are a few workarounds, including setting up additional expo stations whenever possible and streamlining your patio menu for easy to serve items.
Additionally, you might consider a contactless technological solution. Contactless tech works through smart technology to give your guests control of their ordering preferences. Additionally, contactless technologies provide valuable data analytics to restaurateurs. An example of a contactless tech in action is a digitally accessible menu, which cuts back on waste, the potential for viral transmission through contact, and directly connects the kitchen and the guest.
Prepare For The Worst
In expanding your outdoor seating, you know it’s going to rain, snow, etc., and that it’s going to get cold, so start preparing immediately. The easiest fix is an awning or canvas that provides a broad cover base for your guests, although some restaurants have implemented particularly novel solutions. Climate control in the summer months can be as simple as a fan, provided it’s safe to implement in your space. During the cooler months, you may invest in standalone heaters or other means of moderating temperature that can provide warmth for your customers looking for a cozy dining opportunity.
Currently, quick service restaurants are only down 6% from normal, primarily because of their physical landscape and pre-existing off-premise functionality. While fast food is a hot commodity and a safe bet, there are still opportunities for all restaurant segments to implement or enhance their own off-premise operations. Ultimately, off-premise has proven to be an incredible lifeline to the restaurant industry and will continue as an indispensable pillar of potential revenue.
For smaller operations, it may be prudent to work with a third-party delivery vendor, although they’re not without their pitfalls too. Still, a third-party delivery option allows you to tap into a market until you can develop your own internal procedures for off-premise delivery.
The pandemic has devastated the industry with an estimated loss of around $120B just between March and May alone. Although the economic trends skew upward, they are still lower than average, which has led to the closure of many operations already with the distinct possibility of more to come. Now is the time to innovate and invest not only in your present but also in your uncertain future to gird your restaurant against further compromise.
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About the Author
Syd was a content marketing specialist, which are fancy words for writing pretty to tell a good story. He likes writing things about food, drinks, and music. He’s a musician himself, a father of two, and loves his wife a whole lot. At home, like the rest of the world right now, he’s finding time to play with the kids and create art.