A restaurant owner’s unusual request

The owner of a restaurant came up to me and sought my advice on how to “free up” his restaurant. You see while his restaurant is very popular – the food is great and the prices, reasonable – the space in the restaurant is limited to maximum of 30 persons only and his problem is that customers tend to stay a little bit longer than they should – talking, laughing, conspiring, studying, reading, facebooking (all unrelated to dining), etc., and thus, he has been turning precious customers away as “there is no more room in the inn.” He is a victim of his own success. Since the food and the ambience is excellent, people come but they also stay longer than is necessary (as far as he is concerned). So, he asks, what strategies can be employed to “free up” some space, i.e. that customers continue to patronize his restaurant and, yet, at the same time, they leave once they are done eating so that he can accommodate additional customers. He is a kindhearted chef and does not want to employ the strategy of some restaurants where waiters rudely clean the tables, get the used plates, glasses and utensils away even when you are not done yet. He thinks it is bastos and has the effect of shooing the customers away. It was an unusual request and I welcomed the opportunity to “think” through his unusual problem. He offered to give the banana apple pie I was eating for free in exchange for my “advice”. So here it is – the things we thought of:

1.  Why not tweak the air-conditioning to make it variable? The longer the customers stay, the warmer it becomes for them.

2. Give rebates or discounts (for use the next time they visit the restaurants) for those who finish dining under a certain period of time. Thus, if you finish leave the table before 20 minutes is up, you get a discount worth 20% of your bill.

3. Targetted soundbox. I saw in one of the feature presentations of TED how sound can be focused to a specific point (just like the way one targets a laser pointer). It is precise and targeted. So the idea is to focus an increasing volume of music to a group if they exceed a certain time so that they would decide (without knowing why) to transfer to a quieter place where the conversation would be better.

4. Pay parking. Most of the customers ride their cars to the restaurant so the idea is to make them pay for parking if they exceed 20 minutes. Parking is free for the first 20 minutes.

5. Chairs that become “uncomfortable” after a period of time. It could be that the “cushion” hardens after 20 minutes and the customer would rather leave than stay longer.

5.  Separate charge for food purchase and use of facilities. The idea is that there is a set fixed price for the food (whether you bring it out or eat it in the restaurant). However, if the customer wants to “dine in”, there will be a per minute charge on the use of the dining facilities. Digital timers/stopwatch (parang taxi meters) will be installed prominently on the table so that the customers will know how time they have used and should be paying.

I do not know whether I was able to help him solve his problem. I guess you can say that he got a banana apple pie’s worth of advice. In any case, I think it was a fair exchange.

Now, if I only could find  a way to make sure that the waiter gets the signal that it is time to replenish my “bottomless” iced tea without me motioning to him every time to do so – that would be the day. A glass with wang-wang anyone?

One thought on “A restaurant owner’s unusual request

  1. Managing peak-time customer traffic is a challenge to many especially restaurants. An additional suggestion perhaps is to find out exactly who the restaurant caters to.

    The data gathering should inform how much each diner spends on the average and entice those who are able to fork up these amounts, and during the time of day that they are most likely to do so. Once the capacity is filled with these primary target clients, there is no other thing the restauranteur can do except ensure that they the customers are getting the dining experience that they have come for.

    For the budget conscious clients, like students, who have more flexible time than employees, perhaps they can be enticed to have early or late lunches by offering free drinks (I don’t know how critical are the contribution margins here) or/or other amenities such as free wi-fi at a period before and after lunch.

    Instead of a turning-away strategy, the approach could be focused on how to ensure that the restaurant is serving its (different) client base well and is always operating at capacity.

    My two-cents, Bong.

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