If you’re struggling to keep up with demand, youre halfway there: tips for managing success

14 October, 2015 by
Aoife Boothroyd

It’s all well and good to have a packed restaurant with reservations coming out of your ears, but consistently delivering a memorable dining experience is something that takes tireless effort, talent and team work.

Hospitality recently caught up with three popular restaurant and cafe operators to discuss the importance of a slick front of house operation and gain insight into how they’ve managed to maintain a loyal clientele in the crowded Sydney marketplace.

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Doing upwards of 2,000 covers every week, it’s safe to say that Sydney’s Alpha Restaurant understands the importance of clear communication between the floor and the kitchen.

Reservations and events manager of Alpha, Krista Gawehn says that pre-service briefings and having one point of contact between the manager on duty and the chef on pass is essential.

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“A key part of our role is utilising the Redcat POS system for communicating orders,” says Gawehn. “We always have a briefing at the beginning of all services for our FOH (front of house), staff which is done by the manager on duty, utilising information from the Redcat reservation run sheet and any relevant menu/beverage changes that have been communicated by the kitchen or bar.”

Alpha-dining-room.jpgMain dining room at Alpha

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When it comes to managing bookings, Gawehn has a number of tools at her disposal – one of which is the trusty telephone.

“The telephone is so important to us,” says Gawehn. “Many customers still like the personal interaction they get from booking over the phone. Of course our ResPAK booking system is also extremely important – people are becoming more and more comfortable with booking restaurants this way and the number of people who use online booking is always on the up.”

Together with a well-oiled front of house team and a highly efficient kitchen, Alpha's restaurant manager, Brooke Davis says that staggering service times enables the restaurant to deliver a more memorable customer experience by avoiding having guests arrive all at once. This combined with an excellent product is what Davis says keeps Alpha’s customers coming back time and time again.

“We always try to be consistent,” says Davis. “This is in terms of food, service and the overall experience. We take on customer feedback and genuinely strive to constantly improve.”

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Shared plates at Alpha

Never rest on your laurels

Like many cafes in Sydney’s inner west, Redfern’s Three Williams has a tendency to get inundated with customers on weekends. Rather than completely ruling out weekend bookings – like many cafes in the area – venue manager Erica Flack-Suttor says that Three Williams takes bookings when they open at 7am but after 9am, it’s first in best dressed.

“Bookings are taken between 7am to 9am on weekends, this is our quietest period and we are able to comfortably accommodate bookings both large and small.  From 9am we operate as walk in only.  This allows for optimum flow on the caf floor and in the kitchen, ultimately resulting in consistency and comfort for all guests wishing to dine with us on a weekend,” says Flack-Suttor.

“We have a host permanently stationed at the door throughout our weekend’s busiest periods. Here guests are greeted, added to a waitlist and advised on approximate wait times. Our host will keep guests informed if wait times are a little longer than anticipated.  Information on seating availability and any other details are communicated nonverbally between our host and wait staff throughout service.  We have codes and hand signals to assist us in running a smooth, calm service.”

Three-Williams.jpgThree Williams cafe

Depending on the number of guests per group and the time of day, Flack-Suttor says that the typical wait time for a weekend table at Three Williams is around 30 minutes. Larger groups however will often be waiting for longer periods. With this many bums on seats, Flack-Suttor says that clear communication between the floor and kitchen is paramount.

“Thorough training in menu and floor service is undertaken to ensure unnecessary communication between kitchen and floor staff is kept at minimum.  Staff are trained in when and what to communicate directly with chefs over the pass.  Any other questions, queries or comments are left with the front of house manager to raise directly with the head chef.”

Although Flack-Suttor admits that operating a busy caf is a good problem to have, she never rests on her laurels. Flack-Suttor says the caf is constantly looking forward by restructuring systems, retraining, taking on-board customer feedback and communicating daily with staff members about better ways to operate. In terms of tips on how to maintain a high level of service and return patronage, Flack-Suttor says that the identification of internal efficiencies is what it’s all about.

“If you are struggling to keep up with demand then you’re halfway there; you already have the winning product.  Now you need to ensure its sustainability by identifying what’s working, what’s not, [as well as] future threats and a clear business direction.”

BFAST-Haloumi-Egg-Stack-2-X2.jpgHalloumi egg stack at Three Williams

Communication and organisation is key

Kaz Derbas and Nick Bayss, owners of Sydney’s Bowery Lane say that the ability to communicate effectively up and down the chain of command is vital to the smooth operation of the business. The venue operates for breakfast, lunch and dinner – each of which tends to boast  a full house – making clear lines of communication absolutely imperative. Derbas and Bayss also recognise the value of their staff, and says  much of the business’ success is due to its team.

“[We have] regular management meetings as well as staff briefing before every lunch and dinner service,” says Derbas. “There is always total transparency between the floor and kitchen and everyone is working towards the same goal. Food and beverage tastings are always encouraged especially when new menus items are launched.

“The Bowery Lane staff are the most important part of the success of the venue and without them and their interactions with customers both prior to arriving at the restaurant and also during their visits, Bowery would not be as successful as it is. Bowery Lane has used its food and architectural concept to provide an interesting offering that has little competition in the immediate precinct. This coupled with the affordability and office population density of the surrounding streets adds to the success of the business.”

Nick-and-Kaz.jpgNick Bayss and Kaz Derbas 

In addition to quality people, Derbas and Bayss say that the tools they use to manage reservations are also vital to the smooth operation of their business. Like Alpha, The Bowery still receives the bulk of their reservations via the telephone, however Bayss says that a shift towards digital reservations is becoming increasingly apparent.

“Guests need to be able to communicate through email and phone to make bookings but the end game is a movement towards motivating all your customers through your web portal. This allows for the building of notes on behaviour and preferences to facilitate more guest recognition and customised service.

“That said, the reservation system has to be simple and easy for guests to find and use on the site, but still flexible enough to meet the demands of peak and off-peak periods. Having reservations enabled via your website and embedded on other restaurant listing directories is a must.”

Bowery-Lane.pngHotcakes at Bowery Lane