Q: We’re coming into our busiest season. I know we can do more business during this time of year, how can we get more people through the restaurant to make the most of this opportunity? 
A: Engineer the menu for speed and profitability. In most restaurants +-80 percent of food sales come from +-20 percent of the food items sold. To determine what sells, run a Product Mix Report out of the POS, limit it to food sales and isolate the top 20 percent of items sold. Evaluate the remaining 80 percent of items and determine if there are any items that require intense prep or execution time on the line (“line killer”). Eliminate those items for busy season. Next, take the top 20 percent of items and determine if there are any line killers in the mix. If any exist, eliminate them or streamline processes on the line for speed and execution. This may take additional prep dollars, but the extra money spent will more than pay for itself with one more table turn. After isolating what is going to sell, determine the profitability on each item of the top 20 percent. Consider a small price increase and work with the team and vendors to decrease the cost of those recipes. Focus on the main cost structure of the dish, not every ingredient. Examine the center of the plate and the accompaniments. If the center of the plate is costly, reduce the cost of the accompaniments and vice versa. Many seasonal businesses are fortunate to have a massive opportunity with local and non-local tourists crowding their restaurants during certain times of the year. Some restaurants will generate 50 percent-plus from tourism and could drive more sales with the proper strategy.

Here are four ways to ensure higher sales and better profitability:

Minimize ticket times. 
Restaurant consumers spend little time eating and drinking and disproportionate time waiting and watching. Set standards at 35 to 45 minutes for lunch and 75 to 90 minutes for dinner with proper pacing for table turns. Time and set clear expectations for each step of the guest experience. Make it clear with the front desk, servers, bussers, bartenders, expos and cooks the timings required to maximize seating. Measure productivity of every person against standard, and actively coach and share successful behaviors. Reduce section sizes for servers at least one table each to ensure proper engagement of the guest and maintain a good flow through the kitchen. With too many tables, servers slam the kitchen with too many tickets at once increasing ticket times.

Post results daily and summarize weekly. 
Provide information frequently to keep employees engaged and reduce anxiety. Employees appreciate being part of a team executing at a high level. One of the 12 keys to great management, according to Gallup, is, “My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.” Provide performance metrics on a central communication board such as drinks per hour per bartender, plates out of the kitchen, guests served by FOH staff and guest comments. Performance is contagious. Teach daily the importance of improvement and track and post the statistics showing improvement and high quality work.

Move the squatters. 
Guest squatting is an age old problem in the industry. These guests have a great time, overstay their estimated time slot and seem oblivious to others waiting for their table. They don’t seem to care one bit. Counterintuitively, it’s important to keep squatters feeling great even though their behavior is causing issues with a running a smooth shift. Make it seem like it’s no problem at all. Plan ahead for squatters and equip the team with tools to rescue their experience. Never embarrass a guest in front of another guest. The approach to squatters needs to be customized to each table. Some will get the hint by removing every item on the table and checking on them frequently. Others will need more of a direct approach. Use less busy sections of the restaurant, usually the bar, to relocate the squatters. Start the conversation with a question such as, “I’m sorry, the guests arrived for their 8:00 p.m. reservation on time and they’re waiting for this table, may I buy you a dessert in the bar?” Lastly, don’t forget about those that were inconvenienced, buy them something and let them know you appreciate their patience.

Focus on efficiency, throughput and speed in every area alongside awesome hospitality, and this busy season will be the most successful yet.

For more information on improving profitability and driving sales, 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.