Table-Turning - Do You Do It?

Time is money in the hospitality industry, and the growing trend of table-turning is giving top-end restaurants the chance to maximise their profits. By squeezing in a second sitting at dinner, and allotting specific time slots, it’s possible to engineer your bookings and walk-ins so no table is left empty for long.

No-shows for bookings have a direct effect on a business’s takings for an evening if a table can’t be filled soon after – if you have a restaurant that seats 50 and a table of 5 don’t turn up, you’re looking at the possibility of losing 10% of your business for that evening if you have one sitting. If this is a regular occurrence, restaurants can quickly find themselves in trouble. One sitting per evening no longer generates enough profit for some businesses to thrive, and table-turning is a popular solution. But does this compromise your customer’s experience, and is it something worth doing?

Understanding Customer Needs

For restaurant owners, table-turning guarantees a rise in profits, but are you likely to upset customers with this tactic? For some customers, the idea that they have to leave their table by a specific time while paying over the odds for a meal is difficult to swallow. If at any point during a meal, a customer is made to feel rushed, this will have a negative impact on their dining experience and it’s likely they won’t return. The key is making customers feel that they are moving at their own pace, and being attentive without hassling. If you offer two hour windows, with a first sitting at 6.30pm and a second sitting at 8.30pm then this should give customers ample time to eat. This way, table-turning offers the potential to leave more customers happy, as well as guaranteeing you more income.

With larger parties who are booking for a special occasion, you may want to think about making an exception to your usual time slots as it’s likely they will want to hang around a bit longer. This way you can avoid losing out on large bookings that will be looking to spend a lot on their meal. You can also potentially combat customers being dissatisfied by only employing the two-sittings tactic on the busiest days of the week, generally Thursday, Friday and Saturday, giving them the option to dine for longer on the quieter days.

Politely explaining to the customer what time you will need them to vacate the table when they book is a good way of ensuring that this won’t be a nasty surprise for them once they arrive and are seated. They can then make the decision about whether that is a sufficient time for their meal and you can avoid negative feedback later.

Tips for Fast Turnaround

Using simple techniques, you can make sure service runs swiftly and encourage customers to keep moving their meal along and the required pace without making them feel rushed. It’s important to remember that customer satisfaction is still the top priority, and you want every diner to enjoy their experience enough for them to return to your restaurant. 

You can try to set the length of your sittings to match the pacing of mealtimes. If people are booking an early slot, it’s likely they will have plans later on in the evening, and generally won’t hang around as long as diners on a later sitting. 

Having a maĆ®tre d’ or restaurant manager to take charge of bookings is important. It’s a good idea to have one person who is co-ordinating the bookings, taking care of guests and knowing when tables are ready to be turned to keep things ticking over smoothly. 

A designated waiting area where you can clearly organise your queue for tables, and be able to keep guests up to date with when they will be seated, can help to speed up the process between tables. A table left empty for too long is wasting time and money, so it’s important to get your next table sat as soon as possible. 

To avoid the problem of no-show bookings, you can consider only accepting walk-ins so tables are allocated on a first come first served basis. This prevents the issue of time spent waiting for bookings who are late or don’t show up, and gives you the potential to up the number of covers you can complete in an evening. 

Make sure your staff are trained to ask the right questions at the right times to keep the meal moving along at a steady pace. Clearing plates swiftly and settling the bill will save you time throughout the meal where precious minutes are being wasted. Using a mobile POS system gives you the chance to take the payment at the table and will encourage customers to pay up quickly. Having a bar area where you can politely move on customers who wish to continue drinking and chatting after their meal is a good way to ensure customers vacate their table on time without feeling they are being rushed out. 

Think about your table arrangement, are you maximising your use of the space you have? If you could arrange your tables in a way that could free up more room for extra covers, this can instantly increase your profits. Even a table of two, with two sittings in an evening, will add an extra four covers in a night. Remember to always consider functionality though; sacrificing too much space will only hinder your staff moving effectively around the restaurant and may put too much pressure on your kitchen.


Restaurant booking sites like Dimmi and Open Table offer customers the chance to reserve their tables online, and also feature reviews of the restaurants so customers can make an informed choice. Dimmi now estimates that 52% of bookings are now made online, and up to 32% are made within 24 hours. To try and eliminate the problem of no-show diners, Dimmi allows restaurants to charge customers who don’t turn up to their reservation with no prior warning. The options include taking credit card details so they can charge a fine later, taking a deposit when booking, or charging a full payment for a meal at the time of booking. Customers can also face a ban from making reservations at specific restaurants if they consistently miss bookings.   

If you need to turn tables in your restaurant, making sure your customers have an enjoyable experience and aren’t made to feel uncomfortable should still be your goal. When done effectively, this tactic can drastically increase your profits and help the restaurant industry to thrive again. 

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