How to control capacity front of house

How to control capacity front of house

This article is a collection of ideas, about maximising table turn, spend per head, food quality and levels of customer service during the busiest of times; all this while reducing stress levels.

It’s Sunday Lunch…. You’ve got a load of bookings… you know at least one staff member will phone in sick by 11am – they always do - you’ll have customers queuing outside the door at 12, it’s going to be rammed, there will be a big queue at the till. Orders and checks will pile up in the kitchen, chefs will have 45 minute wait on food by 12.30, they’ll get naggy and stressed and there will be an argument by 1 that normally ends in one of the waiting team in tears… 

Sound familiar?

“Capacity Management” is the term given to a set of Front of House techniques that often Lessees say ‘that would never work in my pub’ however, with some perseverance; the capacity management techniques work. They need to learned and that’s painful, but once mastered they can transform a manic shift into a calm one whilst simultaneously increasing sales.

Capacity Management looks at the following areas:

  • Using Holding areas
  • Set Front of House roles – host, sections, runners, desserts, bar tenders, expeditors
  • Service styles
  • Managing bookings 
  • Table turn

Controlling the flow

Holding Areas

Rather they laying up every single table as a food cover at peak times consider using some as a holding area (sounds daft I know – have less covers when you’re most busy) but, this holding area is a nice comfortable place to wait and have a look at the menu. It is much better to waiting in a holding area then be taken and sat at a clean, fully laid table, have you order taken straight away and food to arrive in 15 minutes; rather than being sat down straight away but you queue for your order then the food takes 30 minutes.

Front of House Roles

Host  - The most important job. Every shift on capacity should have a host that is leading from the very front. The host welcomes, sits Guests, introduces the waiting on section staff, they hold the waiting list and communicate with the kitchen. The success of the shift is down to the host as ultimately they control the flow of food into the kitchen.

Sections – Splitting the food covers into sections works. It gives accountability to the waiting team for service in ‘their’ section, increases spend per head, increases customer service and therefore tips. 8 to 10 tables of 4 is about the right for a section.

Runners - Runner’s carry drinks or food to the table when the waiting on team are tied up taking orders. Technically the section workers should be able to do this so lots of restaurants do without this role.

Desserts – Nothing worse than being a Guest and your waiter disappears for 10 minutes because he’s off making some else’s dessert.  Have a dessert maker, train the KP, don’t let customer service get abandoned.

Bar Tenders – This is about aces in places. During peak trading bar tenders should make the drinks and waiting on team carry them to the table.

Expeditor – An expeditor works in the kitchen and acts as sense check between kitchen and front of house. They coordinate which meals should be sent where and communicate course transitions to the chefs. They also act as quality control.

Service Style 

You need to choose between order at the till, order at the bar, assisted service, casual table service, formal table service, even silver service. Your choice must match your pub and your business plan. In a busy pub food operation looking to control and increase capacity consider moving to a full, casual table service (casual table service means no ties or sniffing corks or napkins on knees). It will be costly in terms of labour to start with but task your team with increases in sales of side orders, starters and desserts and these high GP items will boost spend per head and general profitability.

Managing Bookings  

Again this is a policy you need to decide; but don’t let the fact you do take booking cost you money! Taking a booking for 12 people at 1.15 on a Sunday means you’ve lost that retail space for an hour and fifteen minutes. Apologise; we can accommodate you at 12pm or at 3pm.

What percentage of your food covers would you consider booking out? Having an open booking policy will result in costing you money. (Watch all the walk in trade get turned away because you are ‘fully booked’)

Advice wise; only booked up to 50% of your food covers on a key session where you get lots of walk in trade. Don’t take bookings at timings that will cost you a table. ‘Staggered’ bookings is better than lots of bookings arriving at the same time.

Train every member of staff that answers the phone to take a booking. Take online booking;,

Tip: If you are using “Table Reserved” use ‘table reserved from…3.15pm’ for example in order to make sure any walk in guest understand the choice they have if accepting that table

Table Turn

Table turn is simply how hard a table works for you on a key session. If you have 100 covers or seats for food in your pub and you serve 400 main courses you have turned your tables 4 times. This would be good going. The aim of capacity management is to make sure that you have the right people in the right role, you reduce pinch supports and support them if they occur, the host rather than the customers determine the volume of food orders that come into the kitchen, service is improved so is speed per head; however the table turn is maintained or improved.