Q: In the past, I would fill my dining room twice through lunch. Now, I’m lucky to get one full turn per day. What can I do differently to rebuild those lost sales?

A: Unless you’re a destination restaurant, lunch is dependent on speed, “crave,” value, and convenience. Focus on speed first, the others we’ll address in a future column.

In analyzing door-to-door lunch sales those that perform at the highest level are those with swift service in every area. The guest is typically on a schedule at during lunch so it is important to keep the guest moving, but not rushed, unless they are coming for a leisurely lunch. Follow and measure these standards for the guest:

  • Seated within one minute.
  • Greeted at the table and solicited with drinks within two minutes of being sat.
  • Food order taken two minutes later when the drink is delivered. The average consumer spends 109 seconds with the menu so they will have had the proper amount of time.
  • Food order placed in less than one minute from taking the order.
  • Food delivered in 10 to 12 minutes from ordering. (Apps should be five to eight minutes; soup/salad within two minutes.)
  • Check back with the table one minute later (Two minutes is too long). Ensure the item tastes great with the proper temperature and makes the guest smile. It’s way too easy to catch a guest with a mouthful and not measure the level of enjoyment. After all, ecstatic satisfaction is all that matters.
  • After the entree, and hopefully a quickly served dessert, the guest check is presented within one minute of completion.
  • Check is closed out within one minute of the guest presenting payment. This is the Achilles heel of the industry. Way too often the guest is held hostage to the server completing the transaction. Finish every table with the same vigor as it starts.
  • The table is cleaned and reset within two minutes. There is nothing less attractive than dining in a restaurant full of dirty tables.

The guest may spend 15 to 20 minutes consuming the meal. Add approximately 20 minutes for the restaurant to perform and the guest experience will be 35 to 40 minutes. Let the guest ask you to slow down and not hurry up.

The leadership team of your restaurant should measure every one of these timings. Post the expectations for each area and make sure the staff is held accountable to meeting standards. If you don’t hold the staff accountable every single time, you grant”silent approval.” Actively managing the floor and the guest experience is the NO. 1 job of management, including metrics and the staff of the kitchen, front desk, bar, bus, and servers. Providing and collecting ongoing feedback is the goal of all management interaction.

I spent time on a road trip traveling with the former COO of a 2,000 unit chain, and we visited several locations. The restaurants were using a kitchen display system. Average ticket times per order were displayed on a digital sign above the kitchen line for all the staff to see. At one location, when she noticed the average timings were running about 12 minutes and 35 seconds, the COO offered ti step back on the tine and get the timings back to the company internal standard of 12 minutes. Of course, the kitchen staff was aghast and promised to bring the timings into line and by the end of lunch had done so into the 11-minute range. Tolerating ticket times beyond standard is unacceptable for a leader. The lesson learned from this COO was speed kills competition and lack of speed kills business.

Provided your food creates “crave,” that is, the restaurant is known for something fantastic, your price/value is properly aligned where the guest feels the price charged matches the value of the product served, and the location is convenient, improving speed will build lunch sales to desired levels.

For more information improving profitability and driving performance, contact AMP Services at rbraa@ampservices.com. Rick Braa is the co-founder of AMP Services, an accounting and consulting firm specializing in helping companies grow profitability.