By: Piet E. Jones
Change. It keeps happening. Look at menus from a hundred years ago and you see what would be considered now to be a gluttonous number of courses with meals that started late and ran well into the evening, lasting many, many hours. Between the Great Depression and war rationing, things got a little more streamlined with but one entree course (instead of a fish and a fowl and a meat!), a reasonable number of starter courses, and maybe a dessert if the menu is really enticing.
Over the years, restaurants and their diners fell into a fairly predictable routine that most of us recognize today. Early couples grabbing a bite to eat before a movie or a show, a main dinner hour with sets of two or three couples, and a few late couples out for a more romantic, quiet meal. Restaurant design grew to accommodate this with the right mix of four-tops and two-tops, menus and staffing to match, and a reservation book tuned to turning tables every hour and a half or so.
Change, however, is in the air again and the old paradigm is showing signs of fracturing. Some tables order a couple of appetizers and leave. Others split a side, a couple of cocktails, and stay long past closing. Deuces dominate, leaving many a four top half full with the corresponding income lost. What is driving this change and how can you cope?
Technology and the more frenetic pace of our lives are possible contributors. The Washington Post points to Tinder, the ubiquitous dating app, as one of the culprits. Ill-conceived first dates that range from public disaster to R-rated floor show playing out in the middle of the dining room. Sometimes it’s harried parents who, on a special night out, have traded in bar-hopping for restaurant-hoping—making the most of getting a babysitter by hitting four or five restaurants in a single night, ordering nothing but appetizers and top shelf cocktails. Then there’s the reserved 12 top, taking up a big chunk of dining real estate and sometimes a server’s only table for the evening that turns out to be a “girl’s night out.” That can end up being a huge check with lots of fun or a whole lot of side salads and single glasses of Pinot Grigio.
The Post reports that some restaurants are dealing with this by rethinking their dining space. Adding more two-top tables, creating private nooks with a little privacy to encourage more romance, even expanding foodservice and space in the bar areas to shift some people away from the dining room. Of course, not everyone can afford costly overhauls or even shutting down while they occur. You can, however, make some tweaks to your existing operation to better accommodate the new reality.