Efficiency vs. Ambiance: Setting Your Restaurant’s Tone

Street view of a coffee terrace with tables and chairs in europe
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If there’s one thing that makes the restaurant experience special and unique, it’s ambiance.  Everything you can get at a nice, sit-down restaurant, you can usually get somewhere else for a cheaper price. But there is something special about eating in a restaurant that gets ambiance right.

There is a warm and homey feeling in many of the best restaurants, enhanced by a caring staff that is just the right amount of responsive while not being overbearing.  Ambiance is why many people will come to eat at a sit down style restaurant instead of a casual dining establishment.  However, it’s also hard for even the best restaurant owners and manager to maintain.

In sharp contrast with your need to provide a great dining experience with great ambiance is your need as a manager to make sure that everything within a restaurant is running efficiently.  Efficiency is critically important to ensuring a great dining experience, but it often comes into direct opposition with providing a warm and homey ambiance.  Diners don’t want to see their servers rushing, and when there is an air of anxiety and stress floating through a restaurant’s staff, diners pick up on that stress and it impacts their experience.

As a restaurant owner or manager, what choices do you have to try to balance these two needs of efficiency and creating an inviting ambiance?  You have a few options on the table, though some will help you reach this goal better than others.

Training Staff for Discrete Efficiency

As a manager, you can always proactively train your staff to act as fast as they can while hiding that strife for efficiency from customers.  Communicate to staff that while on the dining room floor and in the presence of customers, they should try to project a calm demeanor, but while they are passing through the kitchen or out of sight of customers they are encouraged to move as quickly as safely possible.

This approach to staff training and management often only produces limited success though.  Even if you explain the competing needs of creating ambiance and promoting efficiency to your staff, it is a lot harder to balance these two needs in person than in theory.  Even experienced and otherwise professional waiters may not be able to keep the air of stress from showing while they are on the dining room floor.

Offering Limited Services

There is a reason why many higher end restaurants have very limited menus.  The more often that you do something, the better you can do it, and having minimalist menus allows kitchen staff to specialize and become incredibly efficient in creating specific dishes.  And you can take a similar approach to managing your staff, by cutting back on the services they offer in the dining room as well.

However, great ambiance depends on leaving nothing wanting, and customers can often pick up on when restaurant owners cut services in the name of efficiency.  The last thing you want is for your customers to feel like they are getting cheated in their dining experience just because you want to keep your staff moving quickly.

Digital Tools Promote Efficiency Behind the Scenes

A third approach that can provide a whole ton of efficiency without having too much of an impact on diner experience is relying more heavily on digital tools.  Digital tools can operate “behind the scenes” to promote efficiency throughout your whole restaurant without your customers noticing a change in ambiance.  A great example is digitally printed orders.  If you have an order printer in the back that hooks up to orders-in technology at the front, your cooks will be less likely to misplace orders and can easily print extra copies if tickets are lost.  Your diners will never notice.

An even better example of a digital technology that can increase efficiency without impacting dining experience is an online ordering system.  If your restaurant is able to process take out and to go order entirely through an online portal, your staff will have one less thing to worry about, and can focus on providing a top notch dining room experience to your in-person diners.  Online ordering makes it easy for your take-out customers to get the food they want more quickly, and makes it easier for your servers to focus on in person diners, but your customers in your restaurant won’t notice anything out of the ordinary.

In this way, digital tools are a great way of increasing efficiency “behind the scenes,” without impacting the dining experience and ambiance of in-person diners.  There are a lot of other things you can do to help balance these two needs of managing a restaurant.  But if you aren’t relying on digital technologies already, incorporating more digital tools can be a great way to see a boost in your restaurant’s overall efficiency without losing any of the ambiance that your diners love.

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Rafi Cohen, a graduate of Baruch College & Brooklyn native is the Co-Founder @ Orders2me, an online ordering platform that gives restaurant owners all the features they need to grow their business in the digital age.

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