How to Handle Low Restaurant Reservations

Low restaurant reservations can hurt your staff's morale and take a toll on your sanity. After all, customers fuel the wages and salaries of you and your staff, so when you have a lack of diners, everyone involved in your restaurant suffers.

Your low reservations could be because you're in a cyclical market and the slow season is upon you, or it could be a sign of a far greater problem. As you try to determine the cause of your poor restaurant reservations, here are a few tips for making the most of a less-than-ideal situation.

Cut Staff as Fairly as Possible

When you put together the schedule for your line cooks, you may not have anticipated having such low reservations on certain days. So when you have five cooks come into work on a Thursday and not a lot of business coming in, you'll probably need to send some people home. In order to be as fair as possible, the first thing you should do is ask if anyone is willing to volunteer to leave early. If you have young cooks on your team, chances are that some of them will jump at the chance to go out and have a social life on a night they'd typically be working—even if that means sacrificing a day's pay.

If you don't have anyone who's happy to go home early, be democratic about who you cut. Have your cooks draw straws so that it's random the first time, then establish an ongoing rotation of who will be excused early. This will allow your cooks to know in advance that it's their turn to go home next on a slow night.

Use Downtime Wisely

There are plenty of ways to get value out of a slow night. First, let your cooks practice working new stations while it's slow so they can learn the nuances of each dish before it's busy. You can also have your cooks experiment with ingredients and develop new ideas for dishes, or they can get ahead on preparing for the next day.

When you're overstaffed, you can even have some of your extra cooks stick around to deep clean different parts of the kitchen instead of going home early. That way, they'll still get paid and you'll have a walk-in fridge that's cleaner than you can ever remember.

Continue to Lead, Execute, and Exceed Expectations

Don't let low restaurant reservations and slow shifts cause you to slack as the leader of your team. After all, your employees look to you as the barometer of how the business is doing, and if you show signs that better days are not ahead, you might compel your best cooks to start looking elsewhere for work.

Keep a cool head during tough times and stay positive on the surface—even if it feels like you're working through a very fragile situation. Maintain the standards you've set for your service and cuisine, and strive to provide the best experience to the customers you do have—even if there are fewer. Don't take them, or anything, for granted, and continue doing the things that have always made your restaurant stand out.

It's easy to get frustrated by low reservations. However, if you continue to exceed the expectations of every guest who walks through the doors of your establishment, you'll be doing everything in your power to get back on track.

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