Quick table turnover leads to more sales at any restaurant that ever reaches capacity. At the same time, it is a delicate issue as you do not want to ruin a customer’s experience by rushing them out. Speeding table turnover requires tact and in-house efficiency, and technology can do the heavy lifting for restaurants. Consider a restaurateur who becomes so frustrated with lingering customers that he or she decides to post a sign: “You don’t eat at the library, so don’t read at your table.” This is definitely the wrong approach.

Instead, restaurateurs can use technology to move people faster with more efficient ordering systems, faster checkouts, the ability to page servers and preordering apps that allow people to order and pay in advance. The fact is inefficiencies slow down table turnover more than customers ever will. New, high-tech options encourage faster table turnovers, and they range from taking fast food orders at parking spaces instead of a drive-through window to putting customers on waiting lists for seats even before they leave their homes.

Top Table-Turning Technologies

Envision your restaurant as customers come and go. It may look like the rotating SkyCity restaurant in Seattle’s Space Needle that are located at the top of skyscrapers. These restaurants have little trouble keeping their tables turning literally, but even they could use help in speeding customer turnover. Modern technology offers restaurateurs multiple ways to speed up service and increase the number of seatings during each service period. These technologies include the following methods of improving restaurant service and efficiency.

More restaurants are using better digital communications, field tablets and custom menu boards to accelerate drive-through service. For example, industry giant McDonald’s uses special computers to accelerate drive-through turnover and deliver a better customer experience. The new system allows a staff member to approach a car with passengers who want to place carryout orders as soon as the car pulls into a parking space. Orders are transmitted wirelessly, and a staff member brings the order to the car when it’s ready. Customers don’t have to waste gas while waiting for the drive-through line to move. Starbucks employs a similar system during morning rushes, as a staff person takes orders and sometimes payment from people waiting on the main line.

Tablet technology offers some of the most efficient ways for restaurants to encourage faster table turnovers. Casual restaurant customers often need to play a game of finding their food in multiple stations for entrées, desserts, salads, soups and beverages. Tablet ordering can increase a restaurant’s gross income by 5 to 10 percent and speed table turnover between 7 and 10 minutes faster. Customers can preorder and avoid the frustration of visiting multiple food stations with long lines or waiting a long time for a server or their food.

Panera Bread, Applebee’s and Chili’s Grill & Bar are incorporating tablets into their operations, and other restaurants will need to follow if they want to remain competitive. Fortunately, upgrading to tablet ordering offers faster ordering and payments and encourages customers to take their time and order more food.

Handheld point-of-sale terminals allows servers greater flexibility to deliver a great restaurant experience to each customer. Although the capabilities and benefits vary among systems and equipment brands, advantages of handheld POS terminals include:

  • Turning tables faster by speeding ordering, queries and checkouts
  • Improving customer service
  • Placing more accurate orders
  • Freeing servers to spend more time with customers
  • Reducing the number of servers needed and increasing server income from tips
  • Communicating table status to hosts or customers waiting for seats
  • Checking with kitchens about up-to-the-minute specials and food availability

Seating management software allows restaurants to seat the maximum number of guests with available seats. Trying to figure the best way to configure tables takes years of practice to develop the most efficient skills. Software can instantly calculate the most helpful way to seat people and encourage the fastest turnovers possible. Other advantages of the technology include messaging customers about expected wait times or when unexpected openings become available.

Kiosk ordering from touch-screen stations can simplify the process of placing carryout orders and even allow customers to preorder and prepay for their meals. Kiosks can speed service during busy lunches or when city festivals, holiday celebrations or local sports matches generate unexpected crowds and slow service.

Online tools in the form of phone apps, website widgets, ordering services and ordering software enable restaurants to take reservations and orders online to speed turnover and service is multiple ways. Online reservations allow customers to find open seats in real-time to maximize a restaurant’s seating capacity. Apps and software can allow customers to place their orders directly online.

The orders are held until customers are seated, but this technological advance allows customers to get their food in just a few minutes after being seated. Customers can also speed the checkout process by prepaying for their food. Customers don’t have to wait for a busy server to bring the check or take a payment to the cash register. Indeed OpenTable has been rolling out a feature OpenTable Pay that gives customers the capability to pay through the OpenTable app on their phone at participating restaurants using OpenTable.

Nobody in a restaurant likes campers, which are people who stay seated for hours. Table turnover proves a tricky problem because restaurateurs don’t want to offend their customers by rushing them out the door, but restaurants live or die based on how many guests they can serve. Technology solves the problem in the only acceptable way by speeding service and making it possible for guests to leave sooner instead of later. Of course, that doesn’t mean that everyone will leave promptly, but short of administering shocks to lingering customers, increasing efficiency is the only way to speed table turnover.