Got Downtime at Your Restaurant? Make the Most of it With These Six Tips

waiter setting table

In the restaurant world, downtime happens. It’s what you do with your downtime that decides how these ups and downs will impact your profits. With proper strategies in place, it’s possible to transform what we typically think of downtime into opportunities for increased productivity, more satisfied customers, and even enhanced cohesion among your staff. Let’s take a closer look at six techniques for making the most out of restaurant downtime.

1. Use Servers Wisely

Yes, servers are always looking for more hours, but paying them to stand around with nothing to do is not only counter-productive to your bottom line, but can also be hard on morale. After all, no one likes wiping down the same already-clean table over and over again.
Minimizing the impact of downtime starts with one simple strategy: proper staff scheduling. Staff hours should be scaled to fit demand. Assuming that quiet periods happen at the same time every day, cutting back during times of day when all-hands-on-deck isn’t efficient can immediately trim costs.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean cutting back unilaterally. For example, during the after-lunch slowdown period, you may require fewer servers to keep up with new tables, but a greater representation of bussers to clear tables and get lingering diners out the door. Conversely, when things start to pick up again, more servers may be a greater priority.
Don’t underestimate the side costs of having an unoccupied staff. In addition to taking money out of your pocket, a sluggish staff is more likely to leave a negative impression on diners than a motivated, energetic and busy team.

2. Define Tasks

The truth is that many of your staff members don’t like standing around with nothing to do any more than you like watching them stand around with nothing to do. The simple solution? Give them something to do.
Take a few minutes to prepare a checklist of all tasks which can be done during downtime. In addition to more obvious housekeeping tasks like resetting tables, checking ice machines, cleaning flatware and glasses, and sorting menus, this can also includes lesser-common jobs, like sweeping the front walk, changing signage, checking the bathrooms for cleanliness and restocking dispensers as necessary, and cleaning counters and machinery.
While some staff members may be slacking, others may legitimately be at a loss for what to do. Help them feel useful by taking away downtime ambiguity.

3. Get Busy

While it’s natural to want to relax and decompress following the madness of the breakfast, lunch or dinner rush, managers who slack off during this are setting a less-than-desirable example. On the other hand, managers who identify what can be done during this period of time and get to it will inspire workers to do the same. Not to mention that managers who pitch in are an integral part of positivity in the workplace.

4. Offer Cross Training Opportunities

All employees are looking for opportunities for growth. By offering cross-training during downtime, you can not only make your employees more useful, but you can also help them be more engaged, local employees.
Cross training also promotes restaurant teamwork: the more your staff knows about each others’ jobs and responsibilities, the more effectively they can work together when things pick up.

5. Save Energy

Saving money in your restaurant isn’t just a matter of human capital. Keeping lighting and temperature set to the same levels as busy periods is wasteful — both financially and environmentally, as is leaving on stoves, ovens, and other pieces of machinery when they’re not in use. As long as you can get everything up and running in time for the next rush, cut back when these items aren’t in use.

6. One last thing to keep in mind

While some downtime is natural, are there things you can be doing to bring more customers in the door during slow periods? The National Restaurant Association recently highlighted some ways to attract diners during nontraditional hours, such as offering more snack-friendly menu items and discounts. Just how effective are these techniques? According to the 2015 Restaurant Industry Forecast, 77 percent of people say they’d be more likely to dine during off-peak hours if a discount was involved.

Ultimately, while eliminating downtime from your restaurant operations is impossible, there are plenty of things you can do to make the most of it. These strategies not only promise financial savings, but can also lead to happier customers and staff.

The Allure of Free Appetizers: Why They Work


TGI Fridays made headlines last winter by announcing that its Endless Choice Appetizer special would return in the spring. This deal allows customers to pay just $12 for a bottomless rotation of nine of the casual dining chain’s most popular appetizers, including everything from boneless Buffalo wings to loaded potato skins. Is TGI Fridays onto something? Should your restaurant also be getting on board with free appetizers and other appetizer-related promotions? Let’s take a closer look at the growing appetizer trend, along with why introducing free appetizers may be a savvy move for today’s restaurants.

Learning From TGI Fridays

Fridays announced its first, much-buzzed-about Endless Choice promotion two summers ago. Industry watchers weren’t surprised that the promotion following the sometimes scant winter months common in the casual dining industry. If the intent was to make up for slow winter sales, it worked. Fridays’ Chief Marketing Officer Brian Gies told USA Today, that it was “wildly successful.”

How much so? White Gies wouldn’t speak in specifics, he did reveal that sales not only jumped, but across double digits. The promotion also led a whopping 50 percent lead in sought-after Millennial customers. In the most recent Endless Choice go-round, Fridays anticipated even greater returns because — unlike in its first incarnation — diners were allowed to choose between refills of any appetizers as opposed to just the original appetizer ordered.

Three Benefits of Appetizer Promotions

Do you have to roll out a massive, well-publicized promotion like Fridays to lure diners in with free appetizers? No. As it turns out, even free appetizers like chips and salsa, popcorn baskets, and bread with butter can have the same effect. Here are some benefits of incorporating free appetizers of any ilk into your restaurant strategies.

1. Better Perceived Service

Aside from the fact that people simply like free things, offering free appetizers — particularly those which arrive at the table even before orders are placed– fosters positive diner perception of customer service. Why? Because free appetizers immediately satisfies the needs of hungry diners. In doing so, they also subdue hunger-related irritations, keep diners entertained, and give them something to do while they wait to place their order.
One caveat? Free appetizers served before orders are placed can delay diners from placing their orders, so some turnabout-minded restaurants prefer to wait to serve free appetizers until after meals have been ordered. As timing is everything in the restaurant business, finding the right formula is essential to making the most out of your free appetizer strategies.

2. Increase Consumption

If you’re looking to amp up your bar sales, free appetizers not only get diners in a festive mood, but also in the drinking mindset. After all, many appetizers are salty and fried — the perfect combination to make diners pony up to the bar. Many restaurants find that free appetizers kick off the perfect cycle of consumption: the more diners eat, the more they drink, and the more they drink, the more they order.

3. A Competitive Edge

Today’s diners have more options than ever before. What separates your restaurant from the one down the street? In the case of hungry, budget-conscious diners, free appetizers may be this differentiator. Introducing an appetizer or other promotion during slower times, meanwhile, can help fill downtime. Why appetizers? Not only are they immediate, but they also have a significantly lower cost than entrees.

Meanwhile, appetizers are also the way to go if you’re courting the Millennial market — which you should be: not only have Millennials recently overtaken the Baby Boomers as the largest generation ever, but they’ve also got some serious purchasing power. According to Technomic’s 2015 Starters, Small Plates and Sides Consumer Trend Report, Millennials make up more than half of appetizer-ordering customers.

Worried about being eaten under the table by greedy consumers? Fridays reveals that this hasn’t been a concern: most customers reorder only once. And even though the Fridays Endless Choice promotion may have — at least for the time being — come to an end, some tasty takeaways remain for today’s restaurants looking for new ways to attract and satisfy today’s diners.