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Seating Guests Like A Pro: Table Mapping and Section Planning

Table mapping and section planning


When you do a great job in taking reservations you essentially create a how-to-proceed-with-your-night reference manual. You’ll be looking at the reservations and spending a lot of time with your dining room table map. Some reservation software, such as Opentable will table map for you, but Opentable is not a human who can read guest notes or comprehend situations. This is where the table mapper comes in. The table mapper plans where guests will be seated and why.



What is a table mapper?

A table mapper is anyone who knows the layout of the dining room, reads the reservations and reservation notes for the evening and maps out where all the guests will be seated based on careful thought.

But what should a table mapper consider? The following are some things worth considering when table mapping and section planning:


Where are the members of your service team from? Know these things and utilize that knowledge. How to utilize that information? Easy. When you are planning your table mapping, look at tonight’s guest’s contact number, or better yet have a list of the countries area codes and the area codes of your service team’s hometown and other places they have lived or have a connection to. Now you can easily pair server and guest up. If you have a table visiting from the 715 area code and a server who is from that part of Wisconsin, you can put that table in their section.



What are your server’s unique personalities? If you know your service team then you know they are each very different from each other. And if you’ve hired the best people then you have a grab bag of wonderful personalities, different from one another, but all wonderful. Now consider who your server’s ideal guests are? Just like a chef has a favorite food to work with, a server can have a favorite type of table they like to wait on. How to find out? Ask your servers. And consider what types of guests each server receives the most compliments from? Utilize your team member’s unique character and pair them with their ideal guest, it will improve everyone’s night.



What mood are you in right now? You. Personally. Right now. Is it the same mood you were in yesterday? Will you be in this same mood one week from now, or one month? Being human comes with the knowledge that your mood is always changing. It is effected by biology, hormones, personal relationships and outside influences. Assessing your service team’s mood before each shift is one of the best ways to match your servers up with the right tables.

The server whose mood and energy is at a ten shouldn’t be wasted on the four top conducting a business meeting or 300 year old guests who can hardly hear and are in no mood for giddiness. Give those types of tables to the level six server whose exuberance and natural cheer is low but whose attention to detail and excellence is still strong.

What about the mood of the table? Unlike the server who comes in to work five times a week, is familiar with everything and enters the building with the mood they own, many guests come to your restaurant hoping, and sometimes expecting to be put into the mood they want to have. Big tops celebrating a 21st birthday want to be in a great, celebratory mood, and they want that mood supported by their server and surroundings. A couple coming in celebrating their one year anniversary is looking for their romantic mood to be supported by their server and their surroundings. A table of people coming in after a funeral are looking for their reverent and reflective mood to be supported by their server and their surroundings.

These types of guests are there for different styles of enjoyment or release, but enjoyment none the less. These three groups should probably not be seated next to one another, they’re on totally different emotional planets, and they would each flourish with very different styled servers. If you can provide them with what they need, they’ll look back on the memory fondly.

Section planning is akin to match making. It is an art form and when it is successfully done, everyone walks away happy.


Turn time

Who’s going to dine fast and who’s going to dine ssslllloooowww? The table mapper needs to anticipate this, especially if your restaurant does not inform the guest of reservation allotment times. If you need a certain table to turn faster than another table, consider who you are seating there in the first place.



Consider each servers current level of knowledge and utilize them, as-is, accordingly. If you have a table that has noted they will be enjoying many wines, pair them with your most knowledgeable wine server or sommelier. If you have a gluten-free guest and a celiac server, for the love of God, pair them up.

The best restaurants provide training so each of the servers possesses an exceptional level of knowledge. If you have an opportunity to add any type of training to your restaurant’s team, do it. It will change everything for the better.


Relational seating

If you have a table coming in that is celebrating their anniversary and another table that will be a proposal table, seat them next to each other. Tonight those two tables share a delightful bond; provide an opportunity for them to meet, or at the very least have a positive influence over each other.

Besides the consideration of love, you can also seat people near those who have a commonality in where they live, where they are from, what business they are in, or what they are celebrating. Don’t forget about your server in the equation. If one of your servers is newly engaged, pair them with the proposal table. You get the picture.

You may be wondering how you can obtain this type of information from the guest, after all, some of it is private. But if a gifted reservationist ceases the moment and asks the right questions during the reservation intake, and if you make a point of making each phone call cheery and intimate, you’ll more easily spark a friendly conversation with the person on the phone. You can find out loads of valuable information by simply being friendly and engaging them in a short, but nice conversation.


Honor your guest’s requests and treat table mapping as an important part of the experience, (because it is).


If a guest goes through the effort of making special requests or arrangements for their dining experience, if you are able to honor those requests, then honor those requests.

Once you have exceptionally handled your portion of the guest’s experience it is time to hand over the guest to the server. After you seat the guest, inform the server that they were sat, mark it off on the reservation sheet and tell the server all information that they may need:

  1. Name
  2. Number of people in party
  3. Food restrictions
  4. Time constraints
  5. Celebrations or reason for dining
  6. Questions the guest may have asked
  7. Comments you may have overheard them say, “Man, I am in the mood for a martini!” (Conveying information like this gives the server an opportunity to look psychic when they say, “May I bring you a drink as you settle in? A martini perhaps?”)
  8. Attitudes of guest
  9. Any wait they may have had to endure or struggle they had before sitting

This information may be passed on to the server verbally, but many restaurants are turning to a chit system.


 Using chits

Chits are simply print-outs of important information about the guest for the server to have. They are nice for when a server is too busy to listen to the  information that the host needs to tell them. Chits are usually provided by the reservation system (OpenTable) and printed at the host stand, but they can be hand written as well.

This chit will tell the server the guest’s information. I.e, party name, size and reservation notes. Chits make the sharing of information much easier.



What should I read next?

To learn if hosting is for you, read my Hostess Job Description.

Before you seat your guests you need to take a reservation–do it right!

What in the heck is a table mapper?




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