increase table turnover
by Laura-Andreea Voicu

One of the biggest challenges facing restauranteurs is serving more people daily while providing a flawless dining experience that doesn’t include rushing customers out of their seats. The reasoning behind it is simple: the faster the table turnover, and the more customers you serve, the higher the revenue. And it’s not just restaurant owners who benefit from this. Servers should aim to increase table turnover too because satisfied customers leave bigger tips. All in all, everybody wins.

Below, I go through 13 tips and tricks on how to increase table turnover at your restaurant. Each of them will teach you how to serve more people faster and maximize your staff’s potential while keeping everybody happy, from servers to loyal customers.

How to Calculate Your Restaurant Table Turnover Rate

Before learning how to improve the table turnover rate, you have to understand what it is and how to calculate it. First, choose a period you want to measure, like dinner or lunch, or a specific day. The table turnover rate measures how often your tables are busy during that time.

So, let’s say you want to calculate the table turnover rate during dinnertime. Next, keep track of how many parties you serve at each table. To calculate the table turnover rate, you have to divide the number of parties by the number of tables. Naturally, your goal is to serve as many parties as possible within the allotted period without sacrificing quality.

If you have ten tables in your restaurant and manage to serve 40 parties at dinnertime, that makes your table turnover rate 4.

Now, this number depends on many variables. For example, if you have large tables, you will notice a lower turnover rate because serving more people takes longer. The same goes for upscale restaurants where the accent is on the entire dining experience rather than just eating and then clearing the party’s table.

Keep this in mind as you go through this article. If you own an upscale restaurant, you should focus on making more money by increasing the bill on each table rather than expediting customers for the next party.

For most restaurants, the average table turnover rate is 3, which amounts to about an hour and a half per party if we frame dinnertime between 5 PM and 10 PM. That sounds pretty good, right? Sure, but never underestimate the amount of time you can lose bit by bit. You might end up seating only two rounds of people, which would mean a third of your revenue is gone.

What is seat turnover rate?

You might think the seat turnover rate is the same as the table turnover rate. However, as the name suggests, the seat turnover formula is a bit different. To calculate your average restaurant seat turnover rate, divide the number of customers you serve by the number of seats you have.

Depending on how many seats you have per table and how many people in a party, the table turnover rate may be higher than the seat turnover rate. If most of your tables have four seats and you get many couples through your doors, even though you will seat plenty of “parties,” you will fill fewer seats.

What is table turnaround time?

Another phrase you might have heard is table turnaround time, or more precisely, table per turnaround time. That is the metric used to determine the time a party spends at a table from when they sit down to the moment they leave. In this case, the hour and a half per party timeframe I mentioned above is the table per turnaround time.

How to Increase Table Turnover in Your Restaurant

1. Limit the size of the menu

Restaurants with small menus are becoming increasingly popular. They make it easier for customers to decide what they want to eat since they are not overwhelmed by many options. This prevents decision fatigue and brings benefits to both the customer and the staff.

One easy way to increase table turnover is to serve a smaller menu so that customers can decide and order faster. If they are still unsure and ask for your suggestion on what to order, a neat trick is to suggest menu items that are easier and take less time to prepare.

Similarly, if the customer can’t decide between two dishes, suggest the one that the chef can cook faster. This is a classic example of how to flip tables as a server.

2. Don’t serve incomplete parties

You’re probably all too familiar with the following scenario: you seat an incomplete party and take everyone’s orders. Just when you’ve placed them, the rest of the party arrives, and you are forced to repeat the entire process. As a result, the group finishes eating at different times and orders dessert separately. Everything turns into a huge hassle that delays the next reservation.

Serving an incomplete party can throw off your entire evening. It’s no wonder more, and more restaurants are refusing to do it. If you’re still doing it, you should consider phasing it out because this can help you increase table turnover.

3. Tinker with the decor and atmosphere

Suppose your goal is to get customers out the door as fast as possible without them even noticing you’re doing it. In that case, you can use some decor and atmosphere tricks to help you. For instance, playing fast-paced music will make customers eat faster. Placing the tables in the center instead of the corners also helps, because that’s where all the foot traffic is. This keeps customers alert.

Brighter colors raise the blood pressure and heart rate, stopping people from fully relaxing and camping out in your restaurant. The chairs shouldn’t be too comfortable either or anchored to the ground like booths. However, people in booths spend more per minute, so you might want to consider mixed seating with both tables and booths.

For maximum table turnover, tables are the way to go. If you already have booths and don’t want to replace them, place groups there instead of couples to maximize spending and restaurant table utilization. Learning how to manage seating in a busy restaurant is not easy, but it can make all the difference.

Read more: 15 Restaurant Design Tips That Will Attract More Customers

4. Give customers the option to order ahead when they reserve a table

Do you accept table reservations? You might also want to consider an order ahead feature that allows customers to place their food orders when they reserve a table. That way, the chef will know what and when to cook it, so the food is waiting for the customers when they arrive. This cuts off a large chunk of the time spent deciding what to get and cooking the meal.

Accept your first order ahead by tonight for free Use the GloriaFood online ordering system with a built-in order ahead feature

5. Serve people ASAP

The ideal serving time from the moment the customers sit down is 1 minute. Next, you should aim to get their orders within ~ 8 minutes. If they order appetizers, they will arrive within 20 minutes, and the main courses within 45.

According to a restaurant wait time study, the average wait per party is 23 minutes. The average wait time for food at your restaurant depends on what people order and how organized your staff is. If you train them properly, you can optimize that time and increase table turnover.

6. Ask customers why they’re here & if they’ve visited before

  • Why they’re here because that way, you can learn whether they are in a rush (quick lunch then back to the office) or they’ll be staying a while (romantic anniversary dinner). This will dictate your actions for the rest of the evening. People in a rush, for instance, will appreciate you dropping the check as soon as they’re done, without them having to ask for it.
  • If they’ve ever visited before because if they have, there’s no need for you to go through the entire menu again. Just check whether they’re ready to order. This can save you a lot of time.

7. Print out the check in advance

When customers are done with their meal (dessert or no dessert), print the check and have it ready in your pocket if they call for it. That way, you can just hand it to them.

Dropping the check is another trick you can use, but you should use it carefully. Usually, casual restaurants can get away with this, less so upscale restaurants. After the customers are done with dessert, drop the check at their table.

More often than not, they will appreciate you expediting the bill. If they decline and order something else, no harm was done as long as you’re not in a rush to clear the table.

Which brings me to my next point…

8. Entice customers to leave their table when they’re done

Some people might still linger at the table after they’re done with dessert or even after they’ve paid the check. If you have to ask people to leave, you need to be very careful about how you phrase it. Restaurant table turning often comes off as rude.

As an incentive, ask them if you can buy them a drink or a small dessert at the bar. The freebie is usually enough for them to leave the table. However, this is dependent on you having a bar or at least a lounge area where people can wait or enjoy a drink.

If that is not the case, be honest, and tell them you need this table because other customers are waiting.

Again, this works better is a casual restaurant where you make your profit through volume, thus aiming to serve as many people as possible. If you own a high-end restaurant, you make money through people ordering expensive foods and drinks at the table. So it’s in your best interest to get them to stay longer.

9. Allow customers to order online at the table

If you accept orders online, you can use that same app as a dine-in feature to take orders faster and without that much hassle. This is particularly useful now in the COVID era to limit the interaction between your staff and customers.

Here’s how you can do that using the GloriaFood online ordering system:

  1. Print a flyer letting customers know they can place an order online at the table.
  2. Direct them to your restaurant website where they can browse the menu and place the order.
  3. Prompt them to select the order ahead feature and write “I’m here” plus their table number in the comments field.
  4. Cook the food and bring it to their table.

Because we want to make things extra easy for you, we’ve created a table-top flyer template. Use it to let customers know they can place their order online directly from their table.

Download it here.

10. Train your staff to run like a well-oiled machine

Flawless communication between the servers, bussers, hosts, and kitchen staff is crucial for a fast table turnover. Here are some things that need to happen for everything to run smoothly:

  • Bussers should clear off the table as soon as people finish eating and have new silverware ready for the next party.
  • Servers should pre-assign tables to people waiting, so they know exactly where they will sit.
  • Hosts should hang around customers who are waiting so they can collect them quickly when the servers signal them that the current party is getting ready to leave.
  • Expediters should time the meals carefully so everyone can get their food at the same time without any of it losing its freshness. Every kitchen should have a person who knows proper restaurant expediting techniques.

11. Consider pay-at-the-table technology

With pay-at-the-table technology, you can take care of the check in one easy step. Forget making a few trips back and forth, as is the case with the traditional settling of the bill. Customers will be happier, which might result in bigger tips, and you will increase table turnover. Not to mention the hassle of having people who want to split the bill is nonexistent with this kind of technology.

12. Assign more servers to large parties

Larger parties leave a larger mess behind. Not to mention, it takes much longer to serve everybody if you only have one server assigned to that table. If you have enough personnel, consider appointing at least two servers to large parties. Guests will all feel attended to, and you can increase the table turnover rate.

13. Provide a pleasant pre-meal experience

The wait times at restaurants can be frustrating for many customers, especially if they had a reservation that you can’t honor in time because of some other party of “campers.” If customers have to wait an extra 15-30 minutes, offer them a free drink while they wait to keep them in a good mood. Again, this only works if you have a bar or lounging area, so I highly recommend investing in one.

Besides offering a free drink, the host can also present the menu while people wait, so they are ready to order when they arrive at the table.

Bottom Line

Even though a fast table turnover relies heavily on decreasing the average restaurant service time, your goal as a restauranteur is more about finding the perfect balance between table turns and customer satisfaction. You should allow guests to stay enough so they can enjoy themselves without feeling rushed but not so long that you aren’t able to seat a new party in time.

To effectively increase table turnover, and maintain restaurant service time standards, learn how to improve speed of service in your restaurant. Moreover, train your staff to expertly deal with any issue that might delay a table getting cleared for the next party.

photo of GloriaFood blog writer Laura-Andreea Voicu
Laura-Andreea Voicu

Laura-Andreea Voicu is an experienced content writer with a knack for marketing and SEO. She delivers business-optimized content to help restaurants boost sales and grow their brand.