Next Generation Table Management

By Tim Clark, Contributing Editor | June 01, 2007

The competitive nature of the restaurant industry has forced operators to re-think their table management strategies. While turning tables quickly and efficiently is still top of mind for leading edge operators like T.G.I. Friday's, BJ's Restaurants and others, it's also a vital enabler to enhance the dining experience for customers while maximizing profits.

BJ's Restaurants, Inc. currently owns and operates 58 casual dining restaurants under the BJ's Restaurant & Brewery, BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse or BJ's Pizza & Grill brand names. The company operates eight microbreweries which produce and distribute BJ's handcrafted beers throughout the chain. BJs decided to invest in a robust table management solution in 2005 when Jerry Deitchle joined BJ's as the CEO, making the decision to transition from being a "good restaurant company that was growing," to a "restaurant growth company," according to Brian Pearson, vice president, information systems, BJ's Resturants. "This decision changed the way we looked at everything from welcoming our guests into the restaurants, to how we print up checks in the kitchen for our team member cooks," says Pearson. "We recognized an opportunity to accelerate the business process through the strategic use of technology."

Powerful Partners
During the vendor selection process, Pearson says BJ's evaluated several players in the table / host management space, paying close attention to what the trail blazers were offering. Nearing the end of a successful kitchen display system (KDS) implementation with QSR Automations (www.qsrautomation.com) out of Kentucky, Pearson says BJ's had a high level of confidence in the vendor's ability to develop strong offerings. "QSR [Auto-mations'] creative approach to systems integration was very compelling, and it was an easy decision to continue our partnership based on their previously high level of execution," says Pearson.

BJ's uses ConnectSmart Hostess from QSR Automations, a solution that combines speed of service, production and sales data to increase table turns and seat utilization by serving up more accurate wait times. A configurable dashboard enables BJ's seating staff to monitor guest status and key metrics directly from a "Table Management" view. "It offers us the ability to have a systematic approach to how we seat our guests versus being solely driven off of a team member's abilities," says Pearson. "If done correctly, table management gives our greeters and seaters enough information to shrink the amount of time that seats are empty. We will continue to expand upon the information coming out of table management to identify ways to enhance our guests' experience and increase the number of guests we can share the BJ's experience with."

Maximizing profits
Bigger restaurant chains like T.G.I. Fridays are also looking to maximize their guests' experience with table management solutions. Robert D'Anna, Regional Director, T.G.I. Friday's Northern Virginia hit upon table management success with a pilot from vendor JTech ( www.jtech.com) while serving as general manager of a T.G.I. Friday's located in downtown Chicago.

Keeping wait times to a minimum in the highly competitive market in which T.G.I. Friday's plays is an absolute must, according to D'Anna, as other popular franchises like Red Lobster and Applebee's are competing for the same guests. In response, D'Anna says the Host Alert system from JTech - purchased from Micros ( www.micros.com) in 2005 provided a much better view of table availability by offering views of the entire restaurant or multiple room views. JTech also enables faster mobile status updates, a custom view of wait lists, floor plans and on-screen keyboard and handwriting recognition input all of which makes servers and hosts more productive.

"By providing a better experience for our guests by reducing their wait time, we have seen a marked improvement in customer feedback," says D'anna. "Without question, our table management strategy has helped us boost our revenue performance."

Based on the success of the JTech pilot, D'anna recommended to upper management at T.G.I. Friday's that the Host Alert system is deployed on a more wide scale basis throughout the franchise, a suggestion that was taken to heart, as D'Anna is now currently overseeing the launch of a 400-seat T.G.I. Friday's located at Tyson's Corner Mall in McLean, Virginia whose table management strategy will also be powered by Host Alert.

Turn tables, save money
Atlanta, Georgia based Aqua Blue is a white table cloth restaurant serving seafood, steaks and sushi. The company was eager to try new credit card processing technology in an effort to better manage table turns without disrupting or altering the dining experience for its regular customers, according to John Metz, owner, Aqua Blue. "It was definitely a unique proposition for us. The guests that are there for the atmosphere and the great food don't want to be bothered with new technology.

In response, the new table management/check-out technology from Verifone (www.verifone.com) called On the Spot, allows Aqua Blue staff to bring the machine and the bill to the table, swipe the credit card, hand it back to the guest and process it in front of them. "The receipt is left and they can fill it out at their leisure," says Metz.

Tableside transactions also offer customers an extra level of satisfaction as their credit card is always within both reach and sight, a fact that will go a long way towards ensuring customers that the protection of their personal information is taken seriously. "The card never really leaves their sight. It gets processed on the spot," says Metz.

Metz says the technology also helps Aqua Blue manage tables more efficiently as both staff and patrons are very much intrigued by the technology. "We found that even in a white table environment, where people tend to leave at their own leisure, we can actually turn tables faster," says Metz. "It really has been fun to watch people use the mechanism it's like watching a kid with a new toy with regards to how they handle the machine in really trying to understand it better."

In addition to faster table turns, Metz says the guest feels much more secure about the transaction and tips have actually gone up because of the comfort and security.

Best of all, he notes, patrons are using their debit cards more than credit cards which actually saves Aqua Blue money, an unexpected benefit Metz never considered before. "Our credit card rates over the past several months have actually gone down," says Metz. "Rates for credit cards vary but overall, debit cards are far less expensive for restaurant operators. We have great business with the credit card companies but the savings now on the other end is pretty unique and pretty interesting."

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