What is Flex-Casual?
Restaurant operation is rarely cut and dry. The flex-casual concept implies counter-service during the day and full-service in the evening, offering the best of both fast casual and full-service dining.
Fast casual restaurants offer pleasant atmospheres, diverse menu options, and improved food quality. But often, the lunch rush outshines evening revenues – simply because many diners prefer a little extra service for dinner eaten outside of the home. In a report prepared by Technomic, one fast casual restaurant displayed a 10 percent difference in income between lunch and dinner. With this sort of dining trend, operators are left to wonder how they can improve evening sales without a complete menu or service overhaul.
Enter, the flex-casual concept.
With a focus on dinner service and slightly altered employee responsibilities, restaurants have a chance to improve their dinner sales and reap even greater profits.
The Benefits of Flex-Casual Restaurant Service
Altering your restaurant’s service type can be beneficial for many reasons. With a few small changes, you can serve more customers and give a more fulfilling restaurant experience.
Improved atmosphere. Serving customers at the table has a certain way of saying, “sit and stay a spell.” This can be more inviting for couples and families, or even create the feel of a friendly gathering place rather than a grab-and-go. Learn More: Creating Atmosphere in Your Restaurant
Upselling Opportunities. Restaurant servers have more opportunities to upsell when they can take orders directly from customers at the table. Depending on service type, this can improve sales for the restaurant, as well as increase tips for the servers. Learn More: Restaurant Upselling
Improved Dining Choices. Customers can choose whether they want to order at the counter for a quick lunch or enjoy a full-service experience later in the evening. When customers have more options, they may be more tempted to return.
How to Implement Flex-Casual Service
Many restaurants like the idea of more balanced revenues, and often this can be achieved with only slight shifts in service type or dining room set-up. Flex-casual is unique in that it does not require a complete business overhaul. Sometimes all it takes is a voluntary shift in service-type and employee cooperation.
Split Service by Day-part. The most common transition has to do with day-part service changes. One example is Mama Fu’s Asian restaurant, which offers this mixed-service dining format. During the day, they provide fast counter service for a quick lunch in a casual environment. After 5:00 PM, they switch to full-service: a hostess at the front receives guests and seats them personally, and a server takes the order and delivers the food at the table. [Source]
Before getting started, make sure you have the staff you need to provide table service. Employees may need training in order to move seamlessly from counter-service to table-service.
Split Service by Location. Another way to make flex-casual work in your restaurant is to provide different services in different areas of the restaurant. A section of the front of the house could be devoted to customers picking up to-go orders, with bench seating and sports on TV. The other section of the dining room can be set up with cozy tables and booths as well as full-service for dine-in guests.
There is no hard and fast rule for making a flex-casual concept actually work. In most cases, flex-casual means evaluating your current revenue and considering new service options for improved sales. Although some restaurants are designed with this type of flexibility from the beginning, others find that a shift in service type can actually benefit the bottom line.