The age-old quandary continues to challenge food and beverage operators. Do we build a restaurant for Monday business or for Saturday business? Often the weekend sales may exceed twice the amount of weekday sales and require twice the dining room seating along with expanded back of the house production areas. Restaurants in areas of seasonal business may have an additional challenge of substantial swings in business volume, on and off-season. Occupancy costs are incurred 24 hours per day regardless of outlet operating hours. These costs along with labor and utilities are the largest elements of expense and also areas of the greatest opportunities for restaurant owners to creatively address.
Building for Monday Business Volumes
Pros: the restaurant will typically be full and at the most efficient operational level when all elements are designed for maximum weeknight capacity.
Cons: Frequently there will not be enough seating during busy times, typically on weekends. Insufficient dining room seating capacity limits gross revenues not realized by missed weekend sales. Upset potential diners, over the lack of seats and long wait times, may turn into a long-term loss of sales when they don’t even bother trying to come to the restaurant and get seats on weekends.
Build for Saturday Business
Pros: Available seats during busy times to maximize gross revenues
Cons: Many empty seats during slow times with inefficient and profit consuming overhead. Low energy levels in the dining room when business is slow, and tables that are mostly empty.
Options and Solutions to Consider
1. Make a business decision regarding what is more valuable: Lost sales by building for lower sales volumes or lost profits and inefficiencies created by building for high volumes.
2. Build an amount of seating averaging somewhere in between Monday and Saturday seating volumes to split the difference: Averaging revenue losses and inefficient overhead costs.
3. Offer discounts or giveaways during the slower days to generate volumes that may or may not be profitable: versus being empty on slow days when building seating for a Saturday business.
4. Build scalable spaces that can be enlarged or reduced to fit sales volumes and seasonality of business.
Scalable Spaces are Often the Best Option
The fourth option of designing scalable spaces when possible often is the best for a business from both a profit and operational efficiency perspective. It is easier to design scalable spaces during new construction versus retrofitting and remodeling spaces. It is still possible to refit existing areas and capitalize on additional opportunities for alternate uses of any extra space that is freed up/created during the remodeling process.
Considerations for the Front of House Public and Service Areas
Define the Scope and Opportunities
• Determine ideal projected seating capacities required for each day and meal period of the week.
• Determine if the different projected sales levels will allow scalability in both the public dining/waiting/service areas as well as the back of the house areas.
• Establish flow patterns desired. Attempt to provide the greatest efficiencies in “steps to service performance” and guest accommodations from the front restaurant entrance to seating areas. Create the shortest steps to provide guest service for both slow sales periods and busy periods
• Establish opportunities to create “unseen seating areas” that, when they are closed, eliminate the public questioning why they can’t be seated when they can see open tables.
• Determine if there are opportunities for creating or using adjoining outdoor “patio” areas for seating. These outdoor areas usually have a lower occupancy cost, lower cost of climatizing and become the first areas to close during slow periods and inclement weather.
Identify and Create Additional Dining Room Space
This could be in the form of another separate dining room that can be closed using doors or mobile sliding walls during slow periods of time. HVAC and utilities should be separate from the main dining room and be able to be turned off when this area is closed. If special events and parties are booked during slow periods these rooms could be opened for the function and then reclosed. This area would be dining room overflow seating for higher volume times or banquet space.
Opportunities will vary per geographical area depending on where the restaurant/casino is located. Advances have been made that allow the use of outdoor/patio spaces almost all year round. Patio covers can be retractable, clear view/thermal rated drop sides can be used against rain/wind and space heaters/coolers/misters installed to heat and cool patio spaces. Patios allow the additional opportunities to add elements such as water features and fire features. Often a patio can be used during mornings and lunchtime as extra seating for a restaurant and as a bar/entertainment area at nighttime.
Layout and distances
Areas that will be closed when it is slow should be located on one side of the main dining areas that are always open, not in line with the front door or to the kitchen. This maintains the distance from the front door for seating of guests. Dining areas that are the greatest distance from the kitchen should be those closed first. Often additional dining areas/patios can be designed to have separate service entrances from the BOH/kitchen
Considerations for Back of the House and Non-public Areas
Sizing of the Cook’s Line
Determine if the cook’s line equipment can be doubled up and have equipment mirrored to establish sections that can be closed during slow periods. The goal is a scalable kitchen line that is labor saving and efficient requiring less steps for staff. Additional utility savings can be achieved with extra cooking equipment and exhaust hood sections that can be shut off when it is slow
Shared Cook’s Line
If there are 2 adjoining restaurant areas (i.e. café, sports bar, quick serve outlet) can these outlets use the same kitchen to produce both menus and scale up and down with business volumes? Can a breakfast/lunch (daytime) cook’s line for one dining room be used for an adjoining outlet in the nighttime if that business is primarily dinner?
Simplify menus and reduce the amount of menu items. Review which equipment items can produce each menu item and allow a reduction in kitchen space by the elimination of some equipment. Automation and readdressing cooking processes can provide more consistent results and, in some cases, reduce the skill level required of some kitchen staff members.
Food Preparation Offsite
Can the kitchen area space be reduced with the preparation of some items (including proprietary recipes produced to specification) prepared offsite and delivered as ready to cook/re-heat/plate and serve? When using scratch specialty recipes of the restaurant, but prepared offsite, the back of the house preparation areas for production, cooling, holding can be reduced or eliminated. Kitchen production staffing will be reduced and Line Cooks will need to be primarily talented at cooking items to order that cannot be prepared offsite (i.e. broiled, deep frying, sautéing), re-thermalized prepared items and plating to order.
New Technology and Bulk Systems
There are additional opportunities to create labor saving design elements by incorporating items such as interior biodigesters that eliminate most of the trash hauling and allow downsizing trash dumpster capacity. Bulk cooking oil systems be added, similar to bulk CO2 systems and bulk liquor systems, to reduce trash from the disposal of empty oil containers and eliminate the need to haul hot used oil to the back- dock area. Conversion to any of these systems can reduce waste, labor, storage requirements and in some cases be more cost effective.
Challenges and the Benefits of Creatively Addressing Scalable Opportunities
Staffing challenges will continue for casino restaurants. Design can allow accommodations for this shortage. Scalable dining rooms and kitchens with revised operational practices and new technology provide excellent opportunities to manage business resources to deliver the highest level of guest accommodation and improved financial results.
Craig Pendleton is the President of National Foodservice Consulting, Inc. He has consulted for the past 26 years as a Food and Beverage Operations and Tribal Casino Specialist. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.nationalfoodserviceconsulting.com