What Is a Cover at a Restaurant?
In the restaurant industry, the term "cover" refers to a diner who eats or a meal that is served. A cover differs from a table in that it represents only one of the meals served at that table. It differs from a dish in that it includes the extras that a diner orders, such as drinks, appetizers and desserts. When projecting sales, many restaurateurs find that they achieve a greater degree of accuracy by basing their calculations on expected number of covers rather than expected number of tables.
Using covers as a basis for predicting sales revenue enables a restaurant to base projections on the entire range of what a typical customer orders rather than simply on the entree. In addition, thinking in terms of covers is useful when planning staffing. It takes more servers and bus boys as well as more of the hostess's attention to handle a larger number of covers than a larger number of menu items. Tables must be cleared between covers, and wait staff must establish rapport with new individuals.
The faster a restaurant turns over its covers, the more diners it serves and the more money it makes, but restaurant dining involves creating a relaxing, enjoyable experience, which will be compromised if diners feel rushed. In order to reap maximum profit from the process of turning over covers, service should be smooth and efficient. If servers and cooks make mistakes and it takes too long for customers to get their food, then it may be necessary to rush them in order to seat the next table promptly. If a restaurant has effective systems and service has a steady, relaxing rhythm, then covers will turn over smoothly without diners feeling rushed.
A restaurant cover is a more valuable sales unit if it includes extra items such as drinks and desserts than if a diner simply orders an individual entree. Restaurants often use upselling techniques to increase the value of covers. For example, if a particular menu item goes well with a particular type of wine, the menu or the server can suggest this pairing, encouraging customers to order the two items together. Careful serving timing also can increase the value of covers. Diners who feel rushed are unlikely to linger and order wine and dessert, and diners who wait too long to receive their entrees may be so eager to leave that they decline to order anything afterwards.
Many restaurants accept reservations, which give some information about how many covers to expect during a particular service. Reservations present challenges as well as opportunities for managing cover turnover. On the one hand, they help a restaurateur to set a pace, knowing how long he has to serve a particular table before another group arrives. On the other hand, it can be problematic to juggle reservations when you have a steady stream of walk-in diners.