How to Estimate Restaurant Sales

Couple paying for dinner with credit card at restaurant table
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Correctly estimating your potential restaurant sales is a crucial part of any restaurant business plan. You must have a base number of how much money you think you'll bring in on a daily, monthly, and yearly basis. Everything else revolves around these numbers: expansion, hiring, and ordering for menu choices and specials. Attracting lenders and qualifying for and maintaining financing in good standing can depend on accurately estimated restaurant sales.

You can estimate your restaurant sales on the number of seats in your dining room, your check averages, or even on seasonal highs and lows. You can also divide your restaurant sales between food and liquor sales to determine the profitability of each.

Look at Your Turnover Rate

When you're looking at the number of seats in your restaurant, estimate how many times they can be turned over during a shift. You might only get one seating during a dinner shift if you're running a fine dining establishment while a more casual establishment such as a café or a diner might get three or four seatings during dinner.

You can nail this down fairly accurately if you've been in business for a while. Use your point-of-sale system printouts or actual cash register receipts. Total them per shift both as to number and dollar amount. Find out when you're doing the most business. 

If your servers make note of table numbers on their guest checks, this can also help you determine table turnover rate. Some areas of your restaurant might have a faster turnover rate than others. That cozy booth in the back might be ideal for lingering lovebirds while the table near the door is often claimed by diners who want to get in, eat well, and get out.

Understand Check Averages

Estimate your check average after you’ve estimated the number of guests at your restaurant at any given shift. Keep in mind that breakfast is typically the cheapest meal of the day, lunch is usually mid-priced, and dinner is the most expensive. People are more apt to have a beer, glass of wine, or a cocktail at dinner, helping to boost check averages further during evening hours.

But people also have more time for dinner so they tend to sit at the table longer, resulting in a lower turnover rate. Diners at breakfast and lunch are more likely to be glancing at their watches or phones, gauging how much time they have left before they have to be back at work. You can divide your total revenues per shift by the number of meals served during that shift to get a decent idea of your check average. 

Charting and Estimating Your Sales 

Chart your estimated restaurant sales by month to include the information in your restaurant business plan. It can be helpful to do this on a spreadsheet, including numbers from previous sales on which you can base your estimates. If you historically average checks of $20, if you turn seating twice per shift, and if you have 75 seats in your restaurant, this equals average revenues for that shift of $3,000: $20 x two x 75. 

Not only will this help you with financing, but it will also give you a good idea of the goals you need to reach to make a profit and stay in business. When you've established your sales, you can move on to estimating your restaurant expenses.