How Restaurants Can Better Tackle Their Off-Peak Hours

Restaurant interiorSo you’re happy with the revenue being generated during your restaurant’s peak operating periods. That’s great! That’s where the majority of your profit is going to come from.

Now, however, maybe you’d like to focus a bit more on the slower parts of your week. You want to limit the damage done to your bottom line by those pesky off-peak hours.

Off-peak operating times are similar for just about every restaurant for a reason; people simply don’t eat as much during those hours. Any plan for dealing with off-peak dips needs to focus as much on reducing operating costs as much—if not more—than it does on driving sales.

Here’s just a few ways to rein in costs during downtime.

Shut it Down

Turn off all unneeded ovens, stoves, steamers, and other kitchen equipment during your off-peak times. Important: be sure to first determine exactly how much time each piece of equipment needs to hit its optimal temperature again when getting ready for the next rush; every minute counts when it comes to saving energy.

Chill Out

Use your off-peak times to pre-cool the restaurant when utility costs are less. That way, you’ll have a cushion that should keep your temperature at a comfortable level during rush hour.

And speaking of chilling, consider shifting your ice production to off-peak times as well. Ice machines create heat in the kitchen and only add to your peak time energy demands. Have a timer installed to ensure the bulk of your ice production takes place in slow periods and overnight.

Kill the Lights

Kill the heat lamps in your pass-thru window. Turn off or dim the lighting in any private party rooms or other areas of your dining room that aren’t currently being used. Turn off your televisions if the bar area is empty. Any other lights or signs that could be turned off until the next rush should be shut down.

Reschedule Your Prep Times

RSGMag recommends moving prep periods to your midday off-peak hours as much as possible. They note:

“Controlling minimum staffing levels during off-peak meal periods is difficult because you never know when a busload of tourists or a rush of afternoon diners from a convention decide to pop in. Rather than scheduling prep before you open, consider doing the majority of it during open hours and off-peak times. That way if you do suddenly get an unexpected rush you’ll still have enough bodies to meet the demand.”

Cross-Train Your Staff

We’ve made this point time after time, and we’ll do it again here. A cross-trained staff means you can get more people off the clock and be certain those who remain can float from station to station.

So what about bringing in more guests during off-peak times? Below are just a few ways some establishments are increasing their traffic during the slower parts of the day/week.

Look Into Tech Solutions

Technology is helping many restaurants drive more off-peak sales. The biggest online reservation service for the industry right now, OpenTable, can reward your diners for booking reservations during preferred periods of your own choosing. You select the days and/or times you’d like people to book a reservation and OpenTable offers customers dining points for booking at those times.

Go After Clubs and Businesses

Identify any local clubs or organizations that may meet on your slow days and offer them a discount to entice them to dine with you. Just be sure to let them know to book a reservation so your staff is ready for them.

You could also target local businesses for private parties during your off-peak hours, or provide a local office with catering services, if you can handle it.

It’s Five O’clock Somewhere

Start a happy hour in the late afternoon to kick-start the dinner rush early. Happy hour offerings can include specially priced drinks, and smaller, cheaper dishes such as 1/2 price appetizers. Beginning the dinner rush early could also be framed as an early bird special if you prefer. Just be sure to stay consistent with these specials so people know what to expect and return for more.

Late Nights

The late night set could be tapped into as well. The late crowd tends to be a bit younger, so try to appeal to them with a fun, ambient atmosphere. Dim the lights and fire up some different music; do something that makes your later hours feel distinct from dinner time.

Unlike peak hours where quickly turning tables is crucial, encourage the late night crowd to stick around; have servers check in regularly, and offer that next round of drinks.

Closing time is drawing near at this point so consider paring the menu down to a few items, perhaps appetizers and salads. This lets your kitchen clean up quicker and close certain stations. You want to balance increased sales with the ability to let staff get off the clock as soon as possible.

For a look at reducing both food and labor costs in the restaurant, be sure to download our free ebook at the button below.

Restaurant Cost-Saving Practices


This post originally appeared on’s Restaurant Strategy Blog.


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