Table turnover question

Joined Aug 29, 2000
As a home cook I'm sort of breaking a rule here by posting in this forum, but I'm on a mission for friends who own a restaurant. While baking cookies for an approaching holiday, she and I got to talking about the deck they're planning to open at their place when the weather warms up. She and her husband (co-owners; he's also a chef) are building a very nice clientele since they opened early last summer. Good press reviews are bringing in the diners and drinkers. Here's the situation:

Their place is located on a lake just west of Milwaukee, with a view of the water across the street. It's a unique concept in the area. The dining area seats about 70, with another 35 or so in the bar area. The deck will open this spring and will seat 40-48 patrons (all their tables are 4-tops I believe). They have a lot of success with their apps and drink menus. Weekend nights are BUSY, and they've been able to turn over the tables in the dining room three times per night. What they're worried about is that when the deck opens (it will be under an awning, I believe), they worry they'll have people park themselves on the deck, order one drink and a plate of apps, and stay there all afternoon or evening while the patrons line up in the waiting area.

They're beginning to get swamped on Saturday nights in their dining room, but so far it's only been an occasional problem. How can they keep the tables turning over without chasing people away? Any suggestions?



Staff member
Joined Jun 11, 2001
You can post anywhere you want! :)

First they need to do an analysis of how much each seat generates in revenue, then they need to decide if it's a positive or negative thing. Then plan for growth.

They can turn part of the deck area into a waiting area, or they can start with a drink at the bar. They can also use the deck as dinner seating with a more casual menu. Hey why not? Start early before the deck gets crowded so you have plenty of room for diners. So you flow them through the deck to the dining room or have them eat at the deck.

A crowded waiting area is the worst thing for business. There's busy, and then there's Disneyworld overcrowded we'll never get in busy.

Plan now so if they need to they will be able to make the switch in 48 hours. :)
Joined Feb 24, 2006
More seats is a good thing, even if they are taken up by "campers". If the view and weather are nice, you will have campers. It won't take long before your servers figure out some subtle prodding techniques to get people to leave, after all their earnings are dependent on table turnover. I assume this will be a host-seated area and not anyone can just come in and plop themselves down or else you will have deadbeat campers, buying nothing.
Joined Jun 13, 2002
I'm working with a restaurant that has the same problem.

Their solution: Make the deck people order expensive entree's instead of regular menu items.

The reason why is that it will deter people from just wanting to sit out there and drink, AND it will turn those seats into dollars! This is in Wisconsin, the one I'm working with is in Michigan, so it's seasonal on both sides of the lake.

You don't want campers sitting at your prime tables for three, four hours at a time. And if they do, they pay for it! Those tables are going to be sitting on a wait for the entire summer, so the only solution is to weed out those who will make a difference to the bottom line vs. those who don't.

So far, we've found no other solution to this issue than the strategy I pointed out above. The restaurant here in Michigan has already had one season with their deck, and this is what they went through.

Joined Jul 18, 2000
hmm, the age old solution i suppose has been to smash the punters on the bar.

i guess a possible way around this is to have some sort of a lounge area - kinda the full on bar/cool cocktail bar meets the full restaurant concept. after that i cant really recommend anything else.

Maybe the nibblys/tapas type concept with uber cool drinks and on the otherside, the restaurant stuff.


Staff member
Joined Oct 7, 2001
There really is no way around campers. It is just a fact of life when putting on a deck. That said, I don't think that it is that big of an issue. Sure people might linger a little longer while sitting outside, but the "campers" still are more of an exception than a rule. From my experience only 1 out of every 4 or 5 tables, or less really "camp out". And from what I have noticed, oftentimes those that do, while maybe not ordering a lot of food, tend to order pretty heavy on the drinks.

A bigger issue is really how often you will be able to seat the deck. Here in Wisconsin it might be almost June before the evenings get warm enough to seat out there on a regular basis. Then there are the days where it is too hot, too windy, too rainy, etc. that people would rather sit inside. Decks are great for extra income, but should not be relied upon. If your friends are doing this to bring in much needed income, I would suggest they add on to their dining room. If they are just looking for a little "gravy" a deck is a great idea, just don't relie on it.
Joined Aug 29, 2000
These are helpful answers.

Is there anything in the way of waitstaff training that would be helpful?
Joined Aug 15, 2003
In my experience there isn't really anything that the waitstaff can do to move the table along if they are set on staying, short of asking them to leave (which would be out of the question).

The best thing to do, as far as waitstaff training goes, would be upselling techniques vis a vis apps and drinks. That way they can maximize the $ amt on each table, at the very least.

On the plus side, in my experience patio/deck people are almost always more relaxed, cooler, and a lot more friendly than a lot of "indoor" people. And they tend to drink more too.
Joined Jan 18, 2006
Thet could try putting a bar outside and ask that only people dining sit at the tables. Also a well writen and displayed card / statement on the tables may help move some people along.
Joined Sep 21, 2001
Put benches or not-very-comfy seating on the deck. Backless barstools get uncomfortable unless you are buzzed enough. Unpadded chairs get hard to sit on after an hour or two. It works.
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