A table walks up to the hostess stand and it seems to take 5 minutes for a decision to be made on where to take the guest. Frustrating for the guest. Frustrating for you. The solution is all about planning ahead. Well it's probably because they don't use a tool called First Table / Next Table.

The concept is simple: What tables do you need to seat first and what tables do you need to sit next? There are two reasons for running these lists.

  1. Spread out, or balance, your dining room. Both for the sake of your servers as well spreading out your tables so your room does not look empty. 
  2. Seat tables in specific areas of your dining room that adds to the "full" feeling and helps to create energy.  

How it works:

  1. Decide what tables you need to sit first:
    -What tables are in the line of site from the front door of the dining room?
    -Where do your tables need to be placed to help create energy?
    -What tables do you want to avoid? No one wants to be sat next to the kitchen door. Especially when the room is empty.
    -Don't be afraid to put a smaller table (ie, a two) on a larger table (ie, on a four) when you are slow. This seems counter to efficient seating but it helps fill your room.  Your objective is to give the dining room the appearance of being full or at least not empty.
    -First Tables should be highlighted on your floor plan. If you are using a paper floor plan write FT on these tables and leave that mark there permanently. If you are using a table management system you should assign your first reservations to these FT tables. 
    -The rule should be a "balanced ship". Your dining room should have energy and not be leaning to one side or another. 
  2. Create your FT/NT list.
    -At the top of a dupe pad or piece of paper write 2, 4, 5+.
    -Draw a line underneath them and separate them into columns. 
    -When your next 2 top walks in there is no delay. Look down at your list and pick the first 2 top on the list. Cross if off and seat the guest. 
    -Don't forget that if your are ensuring balanced seating for your servers (ie, they finish with a similar amount of covers) you should take this into consideration. 
    -You probably realized that when your dining room is empty your First Tables are also your Next Tables. 

Now, when a table walks in there is no thinking. Just look at the list and cross of the first table and walk them. Anyone can see what table gets seated next. Done.

PRO TIP:

Don't forget to merchandise your room! Put that table of beautiful people where they will be noticed. Also, don't put the table for four guys out for a drink after dinner next to the couple on a date. There is no easier way to upset that couple. The right decision is to put the four guys next to the four women. Life will work itself out.