In the food service industry, restaurant table turnover is tough to optimize. As a restaurant owner, you want to turn tables as frequently as possible and serve the maximum number of guests. There are quite a lot of ways your restaurant can maximize table turnover, from updating your dining room to preparing certain menu items in advance.

In this article, we aren’t going to talk about all forms of how to improve speed of service in restaurants and maximize table turnover. At Steelkiwi, we believe that restaurant automation is the key to reducing the table turnover time and effectively increasing sales. So today, we’ll focus on how you can use technology to optimize your restaurant processes. 

To see what operations can be automated and how let’s first take a look at a typical restaurant scenario.

Diagram visualizing an ordering flow with a self-order kiosk

#1 Go waiter-free by adopting self-service systems

It doesn’t matter where your table is within a restaurant, you can never find a waiter when you want your bill or when you want to order another drink. I bet you’ve been through this. Why not let your customers order and pay on their own without having to interact with a waiter?

Self-service systems bring a lot of benefits for restaurants:

  • Save time on taking orders

  • Streamline restaurant operations

  • Minimize labor costs

  • Reduce human error and increase order accuracy

Below, we talk about two self-order solutions you can adopt at your restaurant: self-serve kiosks and table ordering systems.

Self-service kiosks

There has been a lot of talk about self-order systems on our blog. We’ve outlined the types of online ordering and discussed how to automate ordering and payments through a self-service kiosk system. Now, let’s get a fuller picture of what self-service food ordering and serving software looks like.

Diagram visualizing an ordering flow with a self-order kiosk

Self-service kiosks have become quite popular with quick-service restaurants. Take McDonald’s ― one of the biggest fast-food players ― as an example. If you went to McDonald’s before 2015, you had only two ways to be served: at the counter or at the drive-thru. Since then, McDonald’s restaurants have undergone a radical transformation. By 2020, McDonald’s will have equipped most of their locations with kiosks, as they believe that self-order kiosks speed up service, improve order accuracy, and cut labor costs.

One of our recent clients ― Damien Toulouse, the CEO of Can Tho ― automated ordering and payments via self-order kiosks and thus reduced the long lines in his restaurant and attracted more customers. For more extensive information on Can Tho, read about how Can Tho kiosks operate and check out our case study.

Table ordering system

Another solution for self-ordering is a tablet waiter or self-service ordering at the table. Tablets at the table work very much like kiosks. They allow customers to both place and pay for orders. Additionally, you can keep your guests entertained while they’re waiting by offering games.

Diagram visualizing an ordering flow with an ordering tablet

Steelkiwi advice: If you’ve decided to implement automation in restaurants by going with self-order tablet systems, don’t replace all of your waiters with them. Some guests will still prefer a person to come to their table and take care of them. So don’t forget to build a call a waiter button. If you want to develop a tablet waiter only for ordering (and not for paying), make sure to include an ask for the bill button.

Features that can be useful for a table waiter app include:

  • Menu

  • Dish customization options

  • Ability to add notes to orders

  • Showing the total price, including service charges and taxes, before confirming an order

  • Ability to place an order

  • Real-time updates on order status

  • Cart

  • Method for leaving feedback

#2 Say hello to on-the-go mobile ordering

Say it’s quite early and you didn’t have time to make coffee but you desperately need it to wake up. There are around 30,000 Starbucks locations worldwide, and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll end up waiting in line at one of them.

Starbucks knows how half-awake people feel about lines. That’s why the company updated their app to include a feature for ordering and paying ahead. You can order coffee on your way to Starbucks and your drink will be ready upon your arrival. Just take it and go.

Fast-food restaurant automation at Starbucks: order ahead, pay for an order, enter a pickup location, and pick up your order

Fast-food restaurant automation at Starbucks: order ahead, pay for an order, enter a pickup location, and pick up your order

Starbucks isn’t the only company that has launched an order-ahead feature. Top brands with this feature include McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, and KFC.

When Dunkin’ Donuts launched mobile ordering in advance, CEO Nigel Travis said that “today’s launch…is a clear example of our determination to invest in technologies that help us exceed our guests’ expectations and enable our franchisees to run their restaurants as efficiently and effectively as possible.”

According to PR Newsletter, Dunkin’ Donuts experienced growth from 6 million to 8 million users a year after they launched on-the-go mobile ordering.

Fast-food automation: on-the-go ordering feature in the KFC, Dunkin’ Donuts, and McDonald’s apps
source: KFC, Dunkin’ Donuts, and McDonald’s apps

With on-the-go mobile ordering, your customers don’t have to wait in line. All they need to do is select a location (if you have a chain), add menu items, submit an order, pay, and pick up their order when they’re ready. Also, you can enable customers to save recent orders as favorites to speed up their next orders.

If you have a fast-food restaurant with a drive-thru, make sure you include the ability for customers to choose how they’d like to pick up their orders: at the drive-thru or inside the restaurant.

#3 Automate table reservations

With an online table reservation system, your restaurant staff can use their time efficiently and focus on guests rather than on the phone. Customers will appreciate that they can book a table in advance for a specific date and time.

A table reservation app will allow customers to view table availability, book a table, get a confirmation email or SMS, and get a reminder about their reservation as it approaches.

Open Table reservation screen
Source: by Brooks Hassig

Additionally, busy people will surely appreciate last-minute table bookings. In the afternoon, notify your regular customers about available tables for that evening. You can also encourage them to make same-day reservations by giving away their favorite menu items or by offering a discount.

#4 Reward customers via a loyalty program app

Repeat customers are the key to a successful restaurant. Loyalty programs help restaurants attract and retain customers. App-based loyalty programs have a special place in building customer loyalty and are an excellent strategy to retain customers.

Take Starbucks and Chick-fil-A as examples of great loyalty programs in the food service industry. Starbucks offers customers birthday treats, double-star days, bonus stars for playing games, customized offers, and stars for every dollar spent. Chick-fil-A does more or less the same.

Restaurant Automation
source: chick-fil-a

You can reward your loyal customers for:

  • Every purchase and/or every dollar spent

  • Giving feedback through social media, feedback forms, or your app

  • Recommending your restaurant to friends and family

  • Following and sharing your content on social media

  • Placing orders through your app or in advance

  • Subscribing to your blog

  • Their birthdays

Steelkiwi advice: Customers want personalization. Make sure you deliver it via personalized offers. You can provide your loyal customers with discounts on what they love and give away their favorite menu items. Let them know you care. Starbucks offers customers 50% off their favorites at Happy Hour.

Automation is the next big thing for restaurants

Some restaurants went even further than these four ways described. Spyce ― a robotic restaurant in Boston ― automates repetitive tasks like taking orders as well as cooking meals. In fall 2018, Hema introduced robot waiters in one of its Shanghai restaurants. San Francisco’s Creator centers around two robot chefs, burger making machines that have an output capacity of 120 burgers per hour. Those are just three examples, but there are many more!

Apparently, automation in the fast food industry has never been more important. Self-service systems, on-the-go mobile ordering, table booking software, and a mobile loyalty program app are meaningful steps to speed up your customer service, increase profits, reduce labor costs, and improve customer satisfaction. But how can your specific restaurant increase table turnover? You don’t have to adopt all these methods at once. You can start small and build on your success. 

If you’re looking for a technical partner to automate your restaurant or if you have any questions on custom restaurant automation, get familiar with our restaurant app development offer and message us.