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You may not have thought about it recently but you opening and closing times play a lot into the customer perception of your restaurant as well as your profitability. So accordingly when should you open and when should you close?

When Do You Start To Get Busy

We’ll start with the obvious, when do you start to get busy? When do your first customers show up, and when do you actually start getting busy? Write down

each day of the week and what times you actually start getting busy. These are your base times.

When Are You Slow

Next write down what times you are slow and what times you rarely have customers. These are your avoidance times. However, these may not necessarily be times you should be closed. Avoidance times may hold a steady yet smaller customer base. If you avoidance times are early day or late evening, they may be cutable.

Check Your Competition

Next, you will want to check your competition. What time do they open? What time do they close? When are they busy? These may or may not be times you also want to be open, but it’s a good gauge to compared with your base times. If your competitors are busy when you are not, ask yourself why. Adjust your marketing to pull in guests where possible.

Customer Psychology

Now that you have your base times and your avoidance times as well as your competitor hours, you’ll want to factor in some customer psychology. Most customers don’t want to be at a restaurant or a bar right as it opens, or within a half hour to an hour from close. The majority of people will feel rude being at the restaurant at these times. Therefore, you’ll want to open about a half hour earlier than you actually expect customers, and you’ll want to close about an hour after you expect customers. For example, if you want business at 9 p.m. do not close at 9:30 p.m. instead set your closing hours at 10 p.m. or 10:30 p.m.

Should I Close Mid-day?

One question that often arises is whether or not you should close midday. Most restaurants have very few or no customers between the hours of 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. accordingly, many may wish to close these hours to save labor. However, I caution you to do so as most customers do not follow your exact hours as much as you do. Therefore, they may know you close mid-day but may not know the exact times. Accordingly, they will avoid going to your restaurant anytime after 12:30 p.m. or before 4:30 p.m. as they will think you are either closed or are near closing. This means you will lose your late lunch crowd and your early dinner crowd. By remaining open, these two crowds likely makes up the labor for the two hours you would have been closed. Additionally, the hours you are slower typically give you a good opportunity to stock the bar to make sure you are ready for the dinner rush. It may also give you time to do a good deep cleaning of your ice bins, behind shelving, or other often neglected areas.

Have a Solid Time

Have a solid time for open and a solid time for close, especially for food. Always serve to the same time, regardless of business. If your kitchen is open until 10 p.m. then keep it open until 10 p.m., even if you haven’t had a customer since 8 p.m. Imagine you have a customer that just got off of work and hurried down to your restaurant at 9:30 p.m. to order some food only to be told the kitchen is closed. That potential customer is going to leave upset and will likely not return after work ever again, even if your kitchen is open that next time. Word spreads fast, and you’ll likely see decreased business earlier and earlier if this becomes a pattern, further exacerbating the problem.

Have An ‘At Least’ Time For Bars

If you are a bar that is open until you do not not have any customers anymore, you will typically list your hours until ‘close’. While this is more accepted by customers, it can hurt your late night. If you choose to use this method, I recommend listing an ‘at least’ time as well. For instance, 11 a.m. – Close (at least 10 p.m.). This way, those that feel uncomfortable about being the person that keeps the bar open, know that the bartender is going to be there until at least 10 p.m. anyway. When you don’t have this listed, customers will go elsewhere when it gets later as they won’t know whether or not there are many other people inside.

Be Consistent

Where possible, try to hold the same hours for as many days in a row as possible. Your Friday and Saturday hours may be later than the other days of the week due to volume. However, try to keep Sunday-Thursday hours the same and Friday and Saturday hours the same. This helps customers remember more easily. If you close at 9 p.m. on Sundays and Mondays, are open until 11 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays because of league nights, and Wednesdays you are open until 10 p.m. because it’s busier than Sunday and Monday… As you can see, it can be impossible for the typical guest to remember. The default for them becomes your earliest closing time minus about an hour. This means if it’s nearing 8 p.m. they are going elsewhere even though you may be open until 11 p.m. By being as consistent as possible with your hours, you’ll keep things easy for your guests, and hold a more steady customer base for your restaurant.

You Can Always Push Later

While it is typically a bad thing to close early, closing late, as long as it is not after legal limits, is always a possibility. When your kitchen is supposed to close at 10 p.m. but stays open until 11 p.m. because of business, that is viewed as a great thing for your guests. However, if you were supposed to keep your kitchen open until 11 p.m. and you closed at 10 p.m. because of business you’ll likely piss off the guest that wants food after 10 p.m. Accordingly, you don’t have to keep your posted kitchen hours excessively late. You can keep them at a reasonable time and increase your hours the day of if business levels dictate. You may want to consider an ‘at least’ time for your kitchen as well if you typically have odd flows for food ordering guests.

Labor

The big definer, labor. It’s what affects opening and closing hours much too often. While, labor should be taken into consideration, it is often not as large of a cost as you think it is. If you consistently pay a bartender to stay until midnight when you do not typically have guests after 9 p.m. then, yes adjust your hours. However, if it just happens to be slow today, instead of shutting everything down, just go to a bare bones staff and hold your consistency times. It’s much better for the long term health of your restaurant. If you are very concerned about labor, cut either the cook or the bartender and run that position yourself as the manager. If it’s as slow as you expect it to be, you shouldn’t have a problem holding the volume and can save half of your labor. This way, you are not sacrificing long term perception for a small short term cost savings.

Not comfortable behind the bar or in the kitchen? Get trained up or re-familiarize yourself with those areas until your comfortable. It will give you benefits beyond just saving labor in the slow times. It also allows you to help more effectively when you are busy, and be able to discipline an employee or send an employee home when they act up without adding undue hardship on the rest of the staff.

Determining your opening and closing hours can come down to a lot of common sense when it comes to business volumes, however customer psychology does play an important day to day role. When it doubt, keep your hours consistent with hard open and closing times. Think about long term customer perception over short term cost savings, and you’ll create a restaurant that attracts more customers and is more profitable in the long run.