How to deal with groups and (partial) no-shows?

Discussion in 'Professional Chefs' started by recky, Apr 23, 2017.

  1. recky

    recky

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    Hi everybody,

    why are groups of customers such a PITA? I don't seem to be alone in thinking that, as quite a few restaurants in the US and the UK add a "discretionary charge" to a group's bill, although I don't understand what problem exactly is alleviated by doing so.

    My main gripe with groups is their unreliability. I own a small destination restaurant in a rural setting, and apart from our normal customers who appreciate our country cuisine and high-welfare meats etc., we increasingly attract small groups of hikers (8-20 people) who pre-book weeks ahead. Invariably they cause problems in that they're hardly ever on time and always considerably fewer people than originally booked (and cheapskates to boot - they tend to order the cheapest meal on the menu plus a single drink). The restaurant only seats 30, so our (much-needed) turnover takes a serious dent if we reserve tables for those groups while at the same time having to turn further customers away who would most likely spend a lot more. On weekends we're usually booked out, yet almost every time we accept a group we end up with empty tables, because they can't be asked to tell us in advance that some of their fellow hikers have cancelled.

    Furthermore, being a one-man kitchen, we plan our bookings with military precision to avoid getting slammed and keeping waiting times under control. More often than not, said groups of hikers don't turn up on time. Last night a group of ten arrived over an hour late, completely screwing our bookings and organisation of the evening service.

    How do you guys deal with groups and no-shows? I hear that in the US restaurants take customers' credit card numbers over the phone and charge no-show fees. We clearly can't do that over here. How do you deal with partial no-shows? Do you accept groups at all? The risk of generating less turnover than needed is immense after all.

    Thanks for your opinions!

    Cheers,

    Recky
     
  2. chefwriter

    chefwriter

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    My first thought is that historically the hikers show up. Whether or not they have booked in advance, a certain percentage of the group show up. So instead of a pre-determined number of hikers, you can look at them as almost certain walk ins. 

    If you've kept good records of this, then you can see historically how many per night are 'walk-ins/hikers. So you then know within a narrow range how many per night will show up and then keep that number of seats available, if no one else books. 

    So i would stop taking reservations for the hikers. Hikers will be treated as first come, first served walk-ins. 

    If you're restaurant is otherwise full, so be it. If you have available seating, you sit the hikers. 

    You don't turn away any else one who wants to book and the hikers are a nice additional source of walk ins. You would know best how to distinguish the two when booking but no more hiker reservations. 

         Oddly enough, I had one experience with this. We had a small restaurant in the industrial section of the city. 

     Friday afternoon, minutes after we closed, a group of young hikers from New Jersey showed up on their way to spend the weekend in the Adirondack mountains, two hours north of us.  While they were disappointed that we had closed, the young woman I spoke with told me with great enthusiasm that they would make sure to be back on Sunday and make sure to arrive long before our closing time. 

    Sunday afternoon they showed up ten minutes after we closed because they had spent the morning "doing other things". 
     
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  3. pete

    pete Moderator Staff Member

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    There are a few ways to deal with this issue. 1. You could just accept it as one of those things that tick you off, but if it is creating a steady stream of revenue then you deal.  2. Start taking credit cards when making reservations and charge for the no-shows.  I know you say its not done where you come from, but go ahead, set the trend.  3. Stop accepting reservations, period.  Run a walk-in only business.  4. Set a limit on how large a group you will accept the reservations for, maybe no reservations for groups larger than 6.  5.Have a statement, when accepting reservations, that all parties must be complete upon check-in and getting the table, and that any reservation that is more than 15 minutes late (you determine how late) will lose their table and be sat when something becomes available.  These last 2 suggestions I have seen done many times, but people can also view them as kind of tyrannical, and you could get a reputation for being snobby.  My suggestion would be to avoid reservations and just handle service as walk-in only.
     
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  4. cheflayne

    cheflayne

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    The problem with eliminating reservations is that unless you have a waiting area for people that are willing to wait until a table opens up, most people will go elsewhere, and with only 30 seats...there probably is no waiting area.

    Create a preferred diner program. After x ( x determined by you, could even be one) number of times of patronizing the establishment, you present the guest with (at no cost to them) a preferred diner card with an individualized number on it. This card enables them to reserve a table in the future. Only preferred diner members are allowed to make reservations, everybody else is first come , first served. When you present a card to a new member, just be sure to include an written explanation of your policies concerning reservations and include the disclaimer that not adhering to the policies will result in the card being deactivated (which means losing the privilege of making a reservation).

    If you have someone who is visiting (a hiker or whatever) the area for the first (and probably last) time and they get mad that they can't make a reservation because they don't qualify as a preferred diner due to the infrequency of their visits, let them know that they can purchase a preferred diner card, with all of the same stipulations. The cost of the card should represent a value similar to what you would charge for a deposit (if you could get away with charging a deposit in your area).
     
  5. halb

    halb

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    Reservations can be a big problem, especially if you don't have a big place. Say a party of 15 makes a reservation for 7pm. That means that those tables (half your place) sit empty from at least 6pm. When parties reserve tables I find that they think they own them for the rest of the night, no matter how fast you serve them. Friday and Saturday nights are usually the busiest for walk-ins so you could probably turn those tables over at least twice from 6-9pm. The fairest thing to do is to not take reservations for those times when you know you will have a good walk-in crowd. 
     
  6. cheflayne

    cheflayne

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    You have a 10 top walk-in. You have no tables open, but you have one just now finishing up. You tell the 10 top that you will have a table ready for them in 15 minutes. Do they wait by the hostess stand impeding traffic flow?  Do you tell them to take a nice stroll around town and come back in 15 minutes. After 12 minutes the table is set and ready and...a different 10 top walks in. They are told that they can't be seated, but yet they see the open table. " Why can't I be seated at that open table that I can see. How can that table be held for someone else. I thought you didn't take reservations. "

    Why would people need reservations for times when the restaurant is not busy; but yet when they would need them (when the restaurant is busy) they can't make them?
     
  7. foodpump

    foodpump

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    Hi Recky,


    As others have said , you NEED to start taking Visa #'s when parties book tables.

    Its cruel, its heartless, it sucks, and its totally neccesary and conducive to a well run business. If you miss your dentist's appointment, you pay a fine of what, 50euros?

    I learnt the same thing when doing birthday cakes. The first year I opened, I didn't ask gor a deposit, and almost 50% would order, but would never pick up, or "forget", and pick up days later and remark that the cake wasn't fresh. After I enforced a 50% deposit, I had 0% no pick ups.

    If you pardon my Canadian-Swiss-German, " Was eniem muehe gekostet hst, halt Man lieb".

    Hope this helps
     
  8. chefjess606

    chefjess606

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    What about a call ahead list? So say on the busy nights you do not take reservations but if someone knows a large party is headed your way they can call ahead to be put on the wait list. They can do this in as far of advance as needed. That way they know their table may not be ready the minute they walk in the door, but the wait is considerably shorter than if they didn't call at all. If they do not show up by the time the table is available, it goes to the next person on the wait list. This helps you have an idea of what is headed your way and if they don't show you don't miss out on as much turn over.
     
  9. recky

    recky

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    Wow! Thanks for all your replies!!!! Have I stirred up a bit of a hornet's nest here? Sounds like many of you have suffered from this, as the ideas and possible ways and means suggested are rather elaborate. This is yet another case of 'my restaurant - my rules' and 'how to eliminate a situation/customer we don't want without offending anyone'.

    (Don't get me started on dogs sitting on chairs and getting fed from the table or unattended children pestering other customers - all very common here in many parts of Europe! A lot of customers think that because they eat at your place they also own it.)

    I have spent some time googling restaurant no-shows and group reservations and have found out it is a problem so grave that it is able to jeopardise many restaurants' existence. Some very hip/urban restaurants have even started selling tickets like a rock promoter. The customer buys four premium tickets for their required 4-top on a Saturday night, or a reduced-price set of tickets for those times which are less in demand. Excellent idea, but the problem is getting people to accept it. It might work for a big new restaurant with lots of media buzz, but not for a small, intimate place that focusses on hospitality.

    More generally speaking, implementing rules that may be unnatural, awkward or simply unheard of to customers is always a huge obstacle for us restaurateurs, since instead of being hospitable and kind, in this very situation we have to be somewhat aggressive and enter into a conflict with those who pay our bills and may turn elsewhere. However, after almost a decade as a restaurant owner/operator I have come to the conclusion that I have to set rules for my restaurant even if the vast majority of my competitors don't for fear of offending anyone. And let's face it: I'm only trying to take control of my restaurant in order to make operations more smoothly - all for the benefit of the majority of my (hopefully return-) customers who appreciate and cherish what we do for them!

    In the past couple of years I have come to desperately rely on a well-organised reservation system, whereby we allow a maximum of six customers per 15 minutes. This allows for a small number of walk-ins. In bad weather, more often than not we are booked out in advance on weekends (only 30 seats indoors), and this is where it hurts most if there are no-shows, because there is very little chance of unforeseen walk-ins, and we have had to turn customers away on the phone. Our beer garden, on the other hand, seats around 45 people, and in good weather many customers (even our regulars, who would normally have booked a table) seem not to want to book ahead and simply turn up, all at the same time. This presents a different set of problems to us: How do we tell a customer that, "yes, there may be a couple of free tables, but the kitchen is currently slammed. You're going to have to wait an hour for your food, but of course, you can have that table in an hour's time." Invariably, they insist on grabbing that table NOW and expect service promptly. We are honest about waiting times, yet at first they don't care, then they ask for preferential treatment for their children ("just a couple of portions of fries asap"), then they get pissed off because they really do have to wait for an hour. I'm trying to figure out a solution for this (somewhat related) problem, too.

    Anyway, I digress. Fact is, we cannot take credit card info on the phone, because many people in Europe (outside the UK) do not own or use credit cards. We all have debit cards which have to be physically present in order to use them for a payment. Customers over here also seem far less prepared to change their ways. If offended, they will take their business elsewhere, even if the competition is crap. In the restaurant industry there is a historically grown feeling of entitlement: "if you don't do as I say, I will punish you by giving your competitor my money, even if I like your restaurant much better." That's why I feel for those restaurant owners whose ONLY rules are their opening hours, and even those are bent on a regular basis as customers overstay their welcome (not realising that chewing on a bottle of beer for hours will simply not pay a restarant's bills.)

    Under these circumstances, the only way for me to eliminate (partial) no-shows caused by groups seems to be not to take any group reservations at all, Fridays to Sundays. I am also quite willing to communicate the reasons for this to my customers; most simply don't understand the workings of the restaurant business and, given some insight, might be more likely to accept this rule.

    Nevertheless, I will never cease to envy those of you who simply ask for someone's credit card info over the phone and then charge 50 bucks per head for a no-show! ;)

    Thanks for letting me vent! Cheers,

    Recky
     
  10. foodpump

    foodpump

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    I guess selling "tickets" for groups at say 10% of the menu price to guarantee that table at that day at that time might work, and other than that all bets are off, you'll just have to wait like everyone else. Might even sweeten the pot with some little freebie when the party books and pays in advance.

    Thing is, if the customer doesn't pay for reservations, they won't respect the service you're offering. Its gotta hurt a little for someone to respect it.....
     
  11. chefwriter

    chefwriter

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    Dogs on tables? The health department here would have a major problem with that one. 

    Otherwise I was going to write a longer reply but I'll be short and direct instead. 

    You set the rules you need in order to run your restaurant well for all involved, whether it's credit card numbers, no reservations, or whatever. There will always be a negative nabob with a big mouth.

    If the customers threaten to go elsewhere, so be it. 

    " However, after almost a decade as a restaurant owner/operator I have come to the conclusion that I have to set rules for my restaurant even if the vast majority of my competitors don't for fear of offending anyone. And let's face it: I'm only trying to take control of my restaurant in order to make operations more smoothly - all for the benefit of the majority of my (hopefully return-) customers who appreciate and cherish what we do for them!"

             This is correct. You run the place for the majority, not the crabby self entitled ones. 

    How do we tell a customer that, "yes, there may be a couple of free tables, but the kitchen is currently slammed. You're going to have to wait an hour for your food, but of course, you can have that table in an hour's time." Invariably, they insist on grabbing that table NOW and expect service promptly. We are honest about waiting times, yet at first they don't care, then they ask for preferential treatment for their children ("just a couple of portions of fries asap"), then they get pissed off because they really do have to wait for an hour. I'm trying to figure out a solution for this (somewhat related) problem, too.

    I'd like to discuss this in more detail. So you can rock out the 30 inside tables but the beer garden addition more than doubles the seating and jams up the works?

    Different menus perhaps? A fast, limited grill set up in nice weather just for the beer garden? A child friendly app that can be made in advance? (small mac and cheese plates)
     
  12. recky

    recky

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    Chefwriter, I don't know if I mentioned this elsewhere, but I am the sole chef in the kitchen, with just a dishie and occasionally another semi-trained hand for salads/cold starters. I plan my menu meticulously in that I use the entire "infrastructure" of my kitchen, i.e. two pan-fried dishes, one set-and-forget dish heated up in the oven, one that's held in the bain marie, a side straight from the bain marie, you know what I mean. This and a perfect mise allow me to handle the 30 seats or even the 45 outside on my own, unless we lose complete control over who arrives at what time. So we do try to communicate that reservations are appreciated. As soon as the day trippers and tourist are in town, all this goes out the window, because they don't know about this requirement. They just see a couple of free tables in a village where we are the only "serious" restaurant and grab them before somebody else does.

    What I really can't cope with is a full beer garden PLUS tables inside, and it does happen occasionally, sometimes within seconds, if the waiters are stressed out and new arrivals start seating themselves (which is the norm over here anyway. No "wait to be seated" - "I'm the customer, so I choose where I want to sit"). I think we will simply have to roll out the time-honoured method of putting "reserved" signs on unused tables in order to control the influx of tickets into the kitchen (and the bar for that matter).

    I admit it: sometimes we shit ourselves if the Sunday morning weather forecast says "27°C, cloudless skies"...

    Thanks,

    Recky
     
  13. chefwriter

    chefwriter

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    Here are random thoughts I had today but haven't put in any order yet. By the time I do you'll be retired. So here goes.

    Have enough china and silverware on hand to get through an entire full seating for both inside and beer garden without having to wash a dish. So by my estimate that would be 75 plates, forks, etc. Round that up to 100. Now your dishie can help with food production and you can save the first round of dishes until after 100 people have been served.  

    Right now your menu plan allows knocking out 30 inside seats. Recreate the menu so you can pump out 75 orders ( a completely full service) fast. 

    If the hikers/walkins to the beer garden are unexpected, how do you know in advance how to have enough food on hand or prepped? How much of a surprise are they? Based on good weather/bad weather/reservations/or something else? Do you ever simply run out of food because too many people showed up? 

    Turn the tables on their sides when not in use, stack the unused chairs behind a garden screen so no one can see them. Set up the tables and chairs as you can seat people. 

    Put a fence/barrier/bushes and gate around the beer garden. No one gets in unless the gate is opened by an employee. 

    Is there a front of the house representative who can interact with the guests without waiting tables? A "manager" or hostess? who can run food and drink as necessary but whose main purpose is crowd control. 

    Invest in some simple playground equipment for the kids. nothing too elaborate. Just a specific entertainment area to corral them while they wait. 

    Okay, I'll think up more later. 
     
  14. cheflayne

    cheflayne

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    I have been in set-ups that are very similar to exactly what you have described. Even with well planned reservation systems, some customers will be early, some customers will be late, somehow they all get there at the same time. Wait staff training is key to making this a non-issue. I waited tables for a number of years before I discovered that BOH was where I wanted to be. I was a damn good waiter and have a good grasp and know how of what can be accomplished.

    Even if everyone gets there at exactly the same time, some will be in a rush, some will want to go slow. Some will want apps. Some will not. Some will want drinks first. Some will not. Wait staff needs to be able to read the guests in order to be able to spread things out without sacrificing anyone's experience. Not all tickets need to be fired at the same time and doing so helps no one but hurts everyone. There is no set in stone time plan for serving people, every table is different and with with their own unique schedule.

    Drum this concept into wait staff's heads. It can be done and accomplished. It is all about teamwork. Even if they can't get on board the teamwork train, this concept doesn't make their job harder, on the contrary, it only makes their jobs easier, which will make their tips bigger. And I know they can get on board with that.
     
  15. recky

    recky

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    Chefwriter, Cheflayne - some very good ideas there!

    My restaurant has been open since 2011, and tourist numbers seem to have exploded in the past few years. When I opened, I had factored in a certain number of tourists and day trippers from the nearby cities (Cologne, Bonn, Aachen and across the border in Belgium and the Netherlands), but I never expected that! It's still only a small village that lies dormant from November to March, so I have always been wary about growing the setup to accommodate the summer onslaught easily. At the end of the day, on a January evening, it is just me and a waitress running the show. We are always struggling to find staff for the season. Those we do find are usually completely untrained part-timers.

    I could probably double the seats outside and fill them on a sunny in-season weekend, but I wouldn't be able to find the staff (which is incredibly difficult), and i also don't want to be your typical, what's the term in the US? - "burn and turn" or something? - tourist area restaurant selling crap overpriced food from sticky laminated menus with faded stock food pictures on them.

    When it first hit me that those sudden tourist crowds were no fluke, but a regular occurrence, I did invest in more cutlery and plates. What a relief! I also learned to modify my menu such that I could turn out quality food quickly. For some time I had experimented with an ancient local homemade pasta that all the older locals knew from way back when, yet which no-one ever made anymore, essentially small dumplings/quenelles formed with a single spoon against the side of a bowl and dropped into salted water. This has become our speciality; it's quick and can be served in a million ways, just like fresh Italian pasta. And it's something I have trained my kitchen hands to do. (And, like all good ideas, it has been plagiarised by restaurants in the region!)

    We also used to run out of food regularly, even if we knew the weather was going to be good, because on a busy Sunday, lunch service would simply hang over into evening service. People would simply keep streaming in and we thought we'd have to feed everybody, even at 4 pm. We no longer do this and are fairly strict about our kitchen hours, as we simply need the time to prep for the evening. Instead we offer crepes and sometimes buckwheat pancakes while we're prepping.

    Chefwriter - I'm seriously considering turning outside tables on their side. It may look a bit drastic, but it will definitely work. I'm still hoping that "reserved" signs will do the trick. Indoors, however, it's a different matter. Anyone on their way to the restrooms would have to walk through a bombsite of stacked chairs and blown-over tables. Here, we will really have to simply rule out the use of the tables by means of signage if the beer garden is chock-a-block.

    Playground equipment is a great idea!

    Cheflayne - apart from those part-time waitresses I mentioned above, I have two very good former pro hotel waitstaff who at least try and keep things under control. While they do get a bit stressed out, they actually seem to like the adrenaline rush (and the tips, which over here, are on top of your hourly wage!) Since running costs are extremely high and profits very low, I can't throw more people at the problem. When the beer garden is full, I have a single waiter and a bartender, and that will have to suffice. Any more staff, and I'm not making any money out of those 45 seats. (Another thing that must be said is that as soon as the "nice-weather tourists" take over the restaurant, I only sell the cheapest items on the menu. Perhaps this might be a crowd-control parameter I could look at...)

    It may sound like I'm whingeing non-stop about self-inflicted problems. Maybe I am, but in this country, even extremely successful Michelin-starred restaurants aren't making any money, because costs have gone through the roof (high minimum wage, staff accident insurance, and not least, very low menu prices even for top-quality products), and nobody wants to work in the restaurant industry anymore (so we can't grow our businesses), and so on. If things continue in this way, the restaurant business as we know it in Germany (and elsewhere in northern Europe) will cease to exist. Even most German-food restaurants are already run by immigrants who pay themselves (and their families!) next to nothing, thus dodging the minimum wage, many old-time restaurants have to close because their proprietors can't find any successors. Unless we find new ways and ideas for running small, privately-owned restaurants, the future will see nothing but food chains.

    It's great to occasionally toss around a few novel ideas or gain an outside perspective from a forum such as this one, as those colleagues I occasionally talk to locally are very set in their ways. Many haven't realised that the world has changed around them.

    So thanks a lot for your input. It's appreciated!

    Cheers,

    Recky
     
  16. cheflayne

    cheflayne

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    All too familiar and a large contributor as to why I consider myself cured of ownership. :~)

    One concern that came to mind when talking about turning beer garden tables on their side is...would it give the impression of the restaurant not being open for business at the time? What about the possibility of staffing the beer garden with just a bartender and a sign saying no food or table service and utilizing it as your waiting area for guests waiting for a table inside?
    That is never the answer anyway. As I understand it, you have 30 seats inside and 45 seats outside. 3 people should be able to handle that with minimum distress and maximum tips and be able to insure that in the process, the kitchen doesn't get hammered unmercifully.

    Do the inside guys pick up outside tables? Because they should, as 2 people for 30 seats seems like overkill to me. If I were waiting tables, I wouldn't be happy with only 15 seats in my station and would probably look for employment elsewhere. A good wait person should be able to handle 24 seats very comfortably. 30 seats with a push but not desirable if avoidable.

    I realize that over the years, the size of stations has shrunk to where 16 seats is probably now considered the norm, but this is a result of owners throwing more people at a problem rather than training staff in increased efficiency. I don't mean to be an anal redundant, but in my stubborn skull, my mantra has always been "when in doubt...train".

    Like you said, profits are already small enough in this biz. Increased efficiency is the only way to avoid cutting into profits even more and will help to insure that you aren't turning away potential money making opportunities; because the window for income is a small one. Only a few hours a day.
     
  17. chefwriter

    chefwriter

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    Some more random thoughts.

         In some ways you have an enviable problem; too many customers, at least during the "season". So as Cheflayne suggested, keeping the beer garden as a waiting area would help in one way since you doing all that is a bit much for just you and a waiter or two. Or at least until you come up with an alternative solution. If ten thousand people showed up, you couldn't feed them all, so don't kill yourself trying. You continue to do what you can do well. 

         Satisfying the kids needs- Rather than offer french fries, which in my opinion is a distracting pain during a busy service, I'll reiterate that something kid friendly that can be prepped ahead of time and handed out quickly would be best. I'm not familiar with what kids like but a fast quesadilla, a plate of cooked macaroni noodles, something cheesy perhaps. You might inquire with the local school to find out what the kids favorite menu item is. Or the local parents. But prepared ahead and handed out with ease. 

         I'll second Cheflaynes' focus on training. But add that training specific to your place. To that end, a constant review of the setup for the wait staff. Are the glassware and silverware conveniently located? Are there small inconveniences that have been gotten used to but could be adjusted? I'm reminded of a book on Time/motion studies I read years ago. Observing the physical movements of the waitstaff in action  might provide some insight in to how to make things more efficient out front.  This can be done with no business as you are observing the physical motions necessary, not the customer interactions. Are the staff spending time rolling the silverware in napkins? What prevents each necessary action from being more efficient. What actions are not necessary? Is there a physical obstruction that could be removed? Would the purchase of an inexpensive item of some kind improve something? I can't tell you from here but I'm confident you'll know it when you see it and quickly too, so this can be done in less than an hour or so. you and the waiter work together when the business is closed to play act the situation and recognize the shortcomings.       

     This situation also reminds me of Jacques Pepins' autobiography where he tells of his mother's restaurant during the war. If turnips were all they could get, then she might make turnip soup and roast turnips for lunch and turnip casserole for dinner. (That's not exact quote but you get the idea) The tiny menu was supplemented by hunters and seasonal availability of anything and of course, not limited by Health Departments limitations on sourcing, it being war time and all. You ancient pasta story reminded me of this. One item, easy to produce, presentable in endless forms.          

                   Depending on what may be available in your area, you could run seasonably available specials. So when local asparagus is in full bloom, you supplement the menu with as much as you can get your hands on. As an avid orchard devotee, I know you can pick a substantial supply in a short time during a quick visit to the farmer at a greatly reduced price, if they have that option where you are. Then when it's over, it's over. Whatever is available next is what you feature on the menu in various forms until that's gone, and so on. Fresh ?? as a soup, salad, entree, plain, shredded, stuffing, garnish, etc. 

           The general theme running through our discussion is about control. And to that end, I think it's important, although not easy,  to keep in mind that you have total control over your situation. As an example already noted, plate shortage caused a problem. You controlled the situation by buying more plates. 

         You have two seasons. November to March and the summer.  So to avoid the sticky laminated menus and the resultant mess, you can have the same menu the year round or  the essential menu during Nov-March, and perhaps additional items available for just the short summer months. 

         Cutting the service off after lunch to allow time to prep is another sign of control. Good for you. "We can't do it well, so we won't do it". 

    In any situation, somethings got to give. Planning and prepping for 75, depending on the menu, might mean having so much food on hand that you need to invest in a bigger cooler, or bigger stove or another prep person or… But that extra expense may not be worth it during the slow season so you'd have to know the extra business would be enough to recover the cost in just the summer months. Of course, if the gods smiled on you and you were gifted at no/little expense with the extra equipment you needed, you could keep it in reserve just for the summer months, letting it sit idle during the slow season.  

         Or you can  Just Say No. I'm fond of quoting a line from a Clint Eastwood movie where he says "A man's got to know his limitations".  As you continue to fix and adjust your business and remove the obstacles from letting you move forward, you can also recognize that as things are, in some situations, you just can't do it. As the old saying goes, you can't please all the people all of the time. So you do what's best for all concerned, yourself first of all. 
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2017
  18. recky

    recky

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    Chefwriter - Thanks for reminding me of that old saying! It was my No 1 philosophy when I started out. Unlike other touristy restaurants, I wanted to be taken seriously for my products and my food, a destination restaurant. I definitely didn't want to be all things to all people. I think I have succeeded, yet to some degree I have become a victim of my own success. I did need reminding of that saying, though!

    The problem with turning the beer garden into a wait area is that people will most likely not accept it, as they will insist on dining outside, except for those "special requirement" customers who'll complain it's too windy/hot/cold/whatever outside. The "dining beer garden" is one of our greatest assets, so even if some customers will insist on dining indoors, we will have to control the number of tables filled at any one time throughout the entire restaurant. And yes, you've hit the nail on the head: it's all about control. My restaurant, my rules. Enforcing those rules is the hard bit. Recently I've noticed that our wait staff seem uncomfortable with communicating certain rules, typical example that occurred twice just last night: Customer calls in for a booking: "We're hiking from XYZ to your place and would like to book a table for four for between 6 and 7 pm." I've instructed staff to insist on a definite time, because a reservation that's late (or early) is, well, no reservation. Another rule is: if a booked table isn't claimed within 20 minutes of the time booked, it's up for grabs. The way the waitress was pussyfooting round the customer on the phone trying to communicate those simple rules, trying to explain the reasons, was a complete mess. If I'd been the customer, I'd have thought: WTF's she on about??? That's something I have been very slow to learn: You have to a) think for your staff, and b) install a language regime for anything that needs communicating. It's extremely difficult to keep your finger on the pulse of what's going on "out there" while you're sweating your bollocks off in the kitchen.

    (Small anecdote: On weekday nights in deepest darkest winter I don't produce any desserts, because we serve almost exclusively locals who'll just want a big, healthy plate of food. One evening, maybe 8:30, we're about to turn the lights off, it's freezing and windy outside, no one has been in that night, in walks a 4-top of city types. So we switch the whole restaurant back on again, I cook their meals, they seem a bit grumpy, but finish their plates, ask for desserts. The waitress tells them: "Sorry, no desserts, it's Wednesday." End of story.

    How did I find out? I read about it on Tripadvisor...)

    Chefwriter - your suggestion of constantly reviewing the ergonomics of the restaurant in order to alleviate obstacles and detours is a very important one, and one that never ends, as staff often change things around unknowingly which eventually become the norm. And even after years of reviewing, learning and improving, there will be things that can be improved. Only last year did we introduce flower pots on the outside tables that hold cutlery and napkins, so that wait staff need no longer be concerned with those. Why hadn't I though of that before???

    My menu changes with the seasons. I work closely with a small veg and lettuce farmer and I only work with what he's harvesting, plus a few small local meat and fish farmers/producers. So 90% of my (ever-changing) menu is "specials", and, compared to other restaurants, I use a tiny number of different components in production. It's very streamlined already. Essentially, you're looking at what I call "honest country cuisine" based on top-notch ingredients, my take on the traditional Lyonnaise bouchon. Three starters, six mains, one or two desserts. I can handle that on my own, it's fresh and unfussy.

    Cheflayne - for the 30 indoor seats we only use a single waitress. For the 45 seats outside we always intend to have two available, but sometimes, the sun comes out unexpectedly, and within 30 minutes, people are catfighting over the last beer garden table. Such unpredictability and the relative remoteness of my restaurant make things a bit more difficult, as some wait staff travel 40 minutes by car just to get here, and you don't just send them home again if things turn out slower than expected. So you try to predict the situation ahead of you, but sometimes it bites you in the backside. On the whole I have always been an advocate of training people rather than throwing more people at a problem. It seems to have worked to some degree: the ice cream shop across the road needs six (!!!) young waitresses to cope with a similarly sized garden area...

    One might think that I'm jaded and a staunch pessimist, but this could not be further from the truth! I still love working with all the excellent products I get my hands on, and it's also rewarding to organise and develop such a place, despite all its inherent and sometimes random problems. Sometime this year, we are opening a couple of B&B rooms within the building (an old stone farmhouse) that double as holiday flats, thus creating synergies with the restaurant. Yes, it's still fun! (A higher financial reward would be nice...)

    Thanks a lot!

    Recky
     
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2017
  19. cheflayne

    cheflayne

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    LOl. I have never been able to figure out if I am a pessimistic optimist...or an optimistic pessimist.
     
  20. recky

    recky

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    Mathematically, this should work out to be exactly the same result ;)

    BTW, I have added a page to my formerly one-page clipboard menu, communicating why reservations are so important for this tiny one-man kitchen and the only way excessive wait times can be avoided. I also explain openly that no-shows are not just bad form, but might actually cost us our entire profit for the night if we can't fill the tables again. I do not write that I hate hiking groups because they're unreliable, cheapskate bastards, but ask that groups of more than six please reserve at least one week ahead by email. (<--- This means I can deal with it outside service times and smoothly tell them that unfortunately, we do not accept groups Fri-Sat, sorry.) Groups of more than 12 are required to pay a deposit upfront of €15 per head.

    I have also instructed our wait staff to always ask callers for their phone number, which might instill a little psychological pressure, and to tell them to please give us a ring should they not wish to honour their reservation or manage to arrive on time. Staff are now also required to be frank about wait times if tickets start piling up, yet more walk-ins arrive: "The kitchen is working flat out for the next hour, but of course we have a table for you at 8:15." We will use the tried-and-tested reserved-sign-on-free-tables-method, but if they insist on grabbing that last free table, they are told that, yes, they will be served drinks, but their food orders will be taken in about 45 minutes. This way, those free tables, e.g. those inside, that we don't want to fill at that point, are turned into a wait area.

    We'll see how that pans out. It's all we can do short of taking credit card details, employing a "bouncer/usher" at a closed gate, or other more drastic measures.

    Thanks for listening! I'll report back sometime mid-season (if not sooner - I do loiter a lot on this forum and do contribute if I have anything to say about a topic.)