Mother’s Day: The One Day Restaurateurs Cannot Afford to Mess Up

“The restaurant kept running out of food.” “The manager gave us free mimosas for seating us 45 minutes after our reservation, but they never made it to our table.” “It took 25 minutes for a server to greet our table.” “Apparently water and iced tea refills are forbidden on Mother’s Day.” These are all lines from real Mother’s Day restaurant reviews, and every one of them was followed by “I will never go back there again.”

After Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day is the busiest day in the restaurant business. Unlike Valentine’s Day, a smooth sailing affair of two tops, Mother’s Day is a mixture of table sizes, more large parties than usual, and the age range at tables can be from 2 to 97. On top of all the built-in chaos, guest expectations are the highest they will be all year. Get it right and you create loyal fans, mess it up and they will never give you the opportunity to make it up to them. Also expect the world to hear about your mistakes everywhere a review can be posted.

There are several things you can do to ensure your Mother’s Day is a successful one.

Plan Reservations Carefully This is not the day to rely on a computer program to determine how many guests you can serve. Build your reservation sheet from scratch and enter it into the system yourself. Count the number of 2-tops, 4-tops, etc. that you have; determine a reasonable table turn for each; and then build the map showing how many times you can turn each table during your hours of operation. Keep in mind that an abundance of elderly guests and children ensure these tables will turn quickly, it is not a leisurely meal. Be sure to build in some larger tables like a 10-top to eliminate the game of Tetris usually required to build large parties. Plan on 100% reservations and leave no room for walk ins. When you start taking reservations stay true to the map. If you get a call for a 4-top at 11 and one is not available, lead the guest to the next available time slot for a 4-top. If you decide to use two available 2-top reservations for a 4-top, first make sure the 2-tops can be pushed together and block one of the slots. If your largest table is a 10-top and someone wants to make a reservation for any size party greater than that, do not take the reservation. This is a lot of examples to simply illustrate that once you build the plan, stick to it, and you will never get into trouble or be late on a reservation. Also, by maximizing your reservations you will maximize your sales.

Make the Wait Pleasant If you do not take reservations, chances are the wait will get long. Keep it as pleasant as possible. Bring in extra chairs and benches to the waiting area so that more people can sit down. If the wait area is outside, add umbrellas and fans. Pass lemonade, water, and “nibbles” all during the wait. Have games to keep children occupied and maybe a musician for adults.

Modify Your Menu Evaluate your current menu and eliminate items that take too many steps to produce. Modify them if you can or create similar dishes that are faster. For example, you might eliminate omelets and add large pan frittatas or egg pies that can be cut and reheated. Don’t expect mothers to eat only salads. If they do, it will be their first course. The top selling items on a Mother’s Day Brunch are French Toast or Pancakes, Eggs Benedict, and Crab Cakes. Find a way to make these fast, like French Toast Casserole, pre-poached eggs, and pre-portioned crab cakes. Plan to sell lots of desserts and serve only desserts that can be pre-plated. Pay close attention to quality and do not sacrifice excellent product for speed. There are ways to have both.

Don’t forget about beverages. Carafes of orange juice and bottles of sparkling wine are a must for every table, eliminating your need to take orders for more drinks. Offer drink specials that can be batched ahead of time and simply poured over ice. Focus on large format bottled water sales and keep iced tea and coffee brewing all day long.

Check Supply Levels There is nothing that will get you behind faster than running out of supplies. Check levels on plates, silverware, ramekins, side dishes, and glassware weeks before Mother’s Day and place the order with enough time for out-of-stock items to come in or for you to find an acceptable substitute. Have a silverware rolling party and put extra bins of rollups in the office to get your through the day. If you serve bread, have enough ramekins that you can scoop butter at the beginning of the day or the night before and be set for shift. Don’t forget steak knives, they are the one thing that we always seem to be low on.

Add Support Staff This is a great day to bring in extra people, possibly even contract labor. Give them specific duties and have them do the same thing over and over all day long. One person may oversee keeping water glasses full, while a group of three do nothing but bus and reset tables. You will probably need an extra host whose only job is to seat tables and maybe another person who does sidework normally done by servers and bartenders like running glassware, brewing tea, and stocking side stations. You should determine the amount of people it will take to make things run as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Remember that your regular staff may not get breaks between lunch and dinner, you need to make their day as easy as possible. Most of all, keep in mind that this day is not one of greed, so don’t plan for low labor cost and huge server tips. Plan instead to make people happy and to keep them coming back throughout the rest of the year.

Offer Something Free Nothing will make the table happier than showing how much you care about their mother. A single flower for each mother is the usual and a good option but feel free to be creative. Perhaps an amuse bouche for each mother; a basket of sweet breads to start the meal, a complimentary glass of champagne, a truffle at the end of the meal, or simply a Happy Mother’s Day card signed by the management team. Get the whole team involved and produce something that will earn you loyal fans and lots of social media posts.

Keep Children Happy It is an exhausting day for young kids. Evaluate the kid’s menu and make sure you can get food to them at the speed of light. Don’t run out of kid’s cups, lids, or straws. Have something to keep them busy like coloring mats and crayons, puzzles, or dough balls. Treat them like adults, calling them by their names and showing genuine concern that they have an enjoyable time.

Promote Dinner One of the problems with Mother’s Day is that we try to force everyone into one meal period and forget about dinner. Mother’s Day is another fantastic opportunity for an amazing prix fixe meal. Create a wonderful menu at an affordable price, throw in some exciting drink specials and a decadent dessert, take lots of great pictures, and promote it ahead of time. Follow the same reservation and staffing rules and just plan on being busy all day long.

You have heard it plenty of times before but, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.” If you want to execute a seamless Mother’s Day that buys you hundreds of loyal guests, use the suggestions above and put together a plan that is uniquely different from the way you would execute any other busy shift. Focus on efficiency and hospitality. The two are great partners and will make a huge difference.

Michael Maxwell – Partner, Blue Orbit Restaurant Consulting


Blue Orbit provides hands-on partnership and unparalleled industry insight to create new concepts and help existing restaurateurs.

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