Restaurants Can Operate at 100% Even With Limited Seating Capacity

Restaurants have expanded the number of channels they're receiving orders from.
a group of people sitting at a table

With COVID-19 still in sight and ongoing labor shortages, many restaurants are feeling the pressure of operating at partial dine-in capacity. At the same time restaurant guests are as eager as ever to resume their regular dine-in habits and look forward to eating out again. This creates an interesting new challenge for restaurant owners looking forward to operating at 100% again.

It’s a bit of a puzzle, but it can be solved. Restaurants have to first look at what their new revenue mix is. The pandemic has expanded the number of channels restaurants are receiving orders from. Dine-in, delivery, pickup, along with a multitude of third-party delivery services. The restaurant is no longer just four walls, it’s now a multi-platform enterprise.

37% of restaurants say integration with a third-party delivery system is driving their next POS upgrade, according to HT's 2021 POS Software Trends report.]  

But what does operate at 100% mean? Does it mean do the same amount of sales as pre-pandemic levels, or does it mean generate the same amount of operating profit, even at lower sales? Most restaurant owners will automatically assume it is the latter. To find the ideal mix, we need to look at the different ordering channels one by one.


A Tech-Driven Dining Room

The biggest issue affecting dine-in sales right now is the labor shortage. Possible responses to that include automation, and new technology that allows fewer team members to service a larger number of guests. Order- and pay-at-the-table technologies can allow guests to place their orders themselves or quickly pay their bill without having to wait for a server. Back-of-the-house technology like kitchen display systems, smart cooking appliances and automation allow food preparation to be executed with fewer people. It used to be taboo to talk about technology replacing people, but we are now to the point where it has become a win-win. Wages in many markets have risen to $15 an hour or more yet, it’s still hard to find people.


Delivery That Doesn’t Eat Profits

The next area we need to look at is the off-premises business. This includes pickup and delivery with orders coming in from phone, online, mobile and third-party applications. The first thing restaurants need to focus on is margins. Third-party services come with a high-cost premium forcing restaurants to increase their prices for food sold on those platforms. So far, we have assumed that the guests shopping on third-party websites are not price sensitive and value convenience. That might be the case for some of the younger population, or those not on a budget, but as delivery is becoming mainstream, it would be wise to look at bringing delivery in-house. 

[Read more: 75% of diners prefer to order delivery directly from a restaurant.]

This means employing drivers and deploying your own online and mobile ordering technology. It might seem daunting but there are solutions available that allow restaurants to deploy their own highly sophisticated delivery and pickup operations, complete with driver apps and slick online and mobile sites. Imagine if you could keep your prices competitive while also keeping a larger amount of what you charge for each transaction. An added benefit to offering your own delivery service is the ability to harvest and keep real insight on who your customers are, and use this information to build guest loyalty and relationships.


The Telephone Isn’t Dead … Yet

One of the things that went under-appreciated during the pandemic was “voice” ordering. Having a single phone number that links all your restaurants together through a virtual call center can be a huge opportunity to capture more orders. The great benefit to this is that it works well with team members who want to work from home. Using an affordable voice-over-IP phone system and an integrated system, you can launch a fully distributed virtual call center staffed with stay-at-home agents.

It all comes down to redistributing sales and profitability from the point of view of who the customer is and how they want to interact with your restaurant, then mapping those categories across the labor and technology capacity of the restaurant. Many restaurants have followed these steps and not only reached 100% of their pre-pandemic profitability, they outperformed it! 

A comprehensive platform that unifies business services is essential. If restaurants utilize the right tools, even when dining room capacity is limited to 50%, they can still operate and open at 100%.

About the Author

Bob Vergidis serves as the chief visionary officer of and sits on the advisory board of the Interactive Customer Experience AssociationHe developed one of the first food mobile ordering solutions in 2000 and one of the first cloud POS systems. With his mobile ordering solution, Vergidis has assisted several restaurants and retail businesses adopt leading-edge technology to move their companies forward. 

Photo by Dmitry Zvolskiy from Pexels