Restaurant Forecasting: How to Forecast Restaurant Sales

April 3, 2024

Are you constantly battling against the unpredictability of the restaurant industry? Do you find yourself asking how to better prepare for the ups and downs of running a restaurant? You’re not alone. The ability to predict future business conditions, or restaurant forecasting, can be your ally in navigating these challenges. By understanding and implementing forecasting techniques, you can gain a competitive edge, optimize your operations, and increase profitability. This article will explore the what, why, and how of forecasting, offering practical advice and examples to help you harness the power of informed decision-making.

What is Restaurant Forecasting?

Restaurant forecasting involves predicting future sales, customer footfall, and other operational needs based on past and current data. It's a strategic tool that helps you align your restaurant's resources with expected demand, ensuring operational efficiency and maximizing profitability. This predictive approach is crucial for making informed decisions that affect the restaurant's daily operations and long-term success.

Why Should You Conduct a Restaurant Forecast?

Conducting a restaurant forecast is essential for several reasons, each contributing to a more streamlined and efficient operation. Here’s why you should consider it:

1. Inventory Projections. Forecasting helps you anticipate the amount of food, beverages, and supplies you'll need, reducing waste and ensuring that you're prepared for busy periods without overstocking. It allows for more accurate budgeting and reduces the likelihood of running out of popular menu items.

2. Seasonal Success. Understanding seasonal trends allows you to adjust your menu, marketing, and staffing accordingly. Forecasting for restaurants can help you capitalize on high-demand periods and prepare for slower seasons, ensuring steady revenue throughout the year.

3. Smart Staffing. Forecasting a restaurant’s staffing needs ensures you’re never caught understaffed during a rush or overstaffed during a lull. By analyzing historical data, you can predict busy times and prepare accordingly, creating a more efficient and cost-effective staffing plan. This optimizes your labor costs and improves the customer experience by ensuring prompt and attentive service.

4. Profit Estimation. A restaurant sales forecast provides a clearer picture of future revenue, allowing for more accurate profit estimations. This insight is invaluable for budgeting, as it helps you allocate resources more effectively, invest in growth opportunities, and confidently manage cash flow. Understanding potential profit margins also guides pricing strategies, ensuring they align with business goals.

5. Informed Planning. Your forecast data is a rich source of insights that can guide various aspects of your business strategy. From tweaking your menu to align with emerging trends to optimizing your marketing efforts and adjusting operational hours, these informed decisions can significantly impact your restaurant's success. Leveraging this data ensures your restaurant remains relevant and competitive.

Factors to Consider in Restaurant Forecasting

Effective restaurant forecasting requires a nuanced understanding of both internal and external factors that can impact your operations. Considering these elements can help refine your forecasting models for more accurate predictions.

1. Weather

Weather conditions significantly affect customer behavior. For instance, warm, sunny days may boost sales at restaurants with outdoor seating, while cold, rainy weather might reduce foot traffic but increase delivery orders.

2. Events and Holidays

Local events, holidays, and school vacation periods can lead to spikes in demand. Forecasting these times accurately helps in managing inventory and staffing levels effectively.

3. Market Changes

Economic conditions, consumer trends, and competitive landscape shifts can influence your restaurant's performance. Staying informed about these factors is vital for adaptive forecasting.

4. Seasonal Trends

Certain times of the year may consistently perform better or worse, depending on your restaurant's location and concept. Identifying these patterns is crucial for long-term planning and marketing efforts.

5. Staffing

Staff availability and productivity levels can impact your restaurant's ability to meet demand. Forecasting helps ensure optimal staffing, contributing to efficient operations and customer satisfaction.

6. Promotions

Sales and marketing initiatives can temporarily alter your restaurant’s typical sales patterns. Accurately forecasting the impact of promotions on demand ensures you are well-prepared for these variations.

7. Specific Occurrences

Unexpected events, such as road construction near your location or a popular event moving to a different city, can affect your business. While challenging to predict, it is beneficial to account for these in your forecasts whenever possible.

How to Forecast Restaurant Sales

Forecasting restaurant sales demands a detailed approach, tailored to the lifecycle stage of your restaurant. Let's explore how this process differs between new and existing establishments.

Forecasting Restaurant Sales for New Restaurants

Without historical data, new restaurants must rely on market analysis and comparable benchmarks. Here's how to approach forecasting under these circumstances:

1. Conduct Market Research

Start by analyzing the local demographics to get a sense of who your potential customers are and what they might be looking for in a dining experience. Pay attention to factors like population density, income levels, and age groups. Simultaneously, research competitors in the area to understand their offerings and customer base. This dual approach will help you carve out a niche for your restaurant.

2. Estimate Customer Traffic and Spending

Determine your restaurant's daily capacity by calculating how many customers you can serve based on seating capacity and table turnover rates. Then, estimate the average amount each customer is likely to spend. These figures will give you a clearer picture of your potential daily earnings and help you set realistic expectations for your business.

3. Build a Baseline Sales Forecast

Use the formula: Sales Forecast = Table Count x Seat Allotment x Average Ticket Size x Table Turn, to arrive at a basic daily sales forecast. Remember, as a new establishment, it's wise to adjust these numbers downward to account for the gradual build-up of your customer base.


Suppose your restaurant has 20 tables, 4 seats per table, anticipates an average spend of $25 per customer, and expects to turn each table 3 times daily. The formula is as follows:

Sales Forecast = Table Count x Seat Allotment x Average Ticket Size x Table Turn

Putting in our numbers:

Sales Forecast = 20 tables x 4 seats x $25 x 3 turns = $6,000

Based on the formula and your estimates, this means you could forecast a daily sales figure of $6,000.

However, as a new restaurant, it's important to temper expectations. Initial months might see lower customer traffic as you build your reputation and customer base. So, if you predict it might take some time to reach full capacity, you could adjust this number down by a certain percentage to reflect a more realistic startup phase forecast.

If you anticipate operating at 75% capacity in the initial months, you can adjust the forecast accordingly:

Adjusted Sales Forecast = $6,000 x 75% = $4,500

This adjusted forecast provides a more realistic daily sales target for your restaurant's early days, acknowledging the time it takes to reach full operational and customer capacity.

4. Consider Additional Factors

Incorporate considerations like seasonality, local events, and economic conditions into your forecasting. These factors can significantly influence customer behavior and, by extension, your restaurant's performance.

5. Regularly Review and Adjust

Your initial sales forecast is just a starting point. As your restaurant opens and you begin to collect actual sales data, it's crucial to revisit and refine your forecasts to reflect real-world conditions more accurately.

How to Forecast Restaurant Sales for Existing Restaurants

For established eateries, forecasting sales is not about starting from scratch but building on what you already know. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to forecast restaurant sales for existing restaurants, ensuring you stay ahead in the competitive culinary scene.

1. Look at Past Data

Begin with your historical sales data, which is the most reliable indicator of future performance. Analyze the figures from at least the past year, noting any seasonal variations, peak periods, and sluggish months. This will form the foundation of your forecasting model, helping you identify patterns and predict future sales more accurately.

2. Identify Trends

Once you have your historical data laid out, look for trends. Are certain times of the year consistently busier or slower? Do promotions or local events significantly impact your sales? Understanding these trends allows you to anticipate changes in demand and adjust your strategies accordingly.

3. Adjust Based On Recent Trends

The restaurant industry is ever-evolving. What worked last year may not be this year. Recent trends, whether they’re in consumer behavior, dining preferences, or economic shifts, should influence your forecast. If you’ve noticed a surge in takeout orders or a preference for healthier menu options, factor these into your predictions.

4. Account for External Factors

External factors such as holidays, local events, and even weather conditions can have a substantial impact on your sales. Incorporate these elements into your forecast to avoid being caught off guard. For instance, anticipate a spike in sales during local festivals or a slowdown during major sporting events if your restaurant doesn’t cater to sports fans.

5. Break Down the Sales Forecast by Menu Items

To get a more detailed understanding of your forecast, break down your sales predictions by menu item. This not only helps manage inventory more effectively but also identifies which items are the most profitable or may need revision.

6. Plan Your Schedule

Based on your sales forecast, plan your staff schedules and inventory orders to optimize costs and efficiency. Forecasting can help you ensure that you have enough staff on hand during busy periods and that you don't overorder perishable goods during slower times.

Forecasting restaurant sales is a critical component of managing and growing a successful restaurant. By following these steps and regularly updating your forecasts based on the latest data, you can make informed decisions that drive your restaurant forward.

Restaurant Forecasting Types

Beyond sales forecasting, there are several other forecasting models to consider, each contributing to a holistic view of your restaurant's future needs:

  1. Sales Forecasting: Predicts future sales based on historical data, trends, and external factors. This is foundational for most other forecasting types.

  2. Financial Forecasting: Projects future revenue and expenses, aiding in budget management and financial planning.

  3. Trend Forecasting: Identifies long-term changes in consumer behavior and market trends, helping you adapt your business model and offerings to meet evolving customer needs.

  4. Demand Forecasting: Estimates future customer demand for your restaurant's services, guiding menu planning, pricing strategies, and inventory management.

  5. Inventory Forecasting: Predicts the amount of stock needed to meet anticipated demand without overstocking or running into shortages.

  6. Labor Forecasting: Helps plan the number of staff required for efficient operation, considering expected sales volume and operational needs.

  7. Menu Item Forecasting: Projects the popularity of individual menu items, informing purchasing decisions and menu design for optimized profitability and waste reduction.

Each forecasting type provides a different perspective on your restaurant’s operations, offering insights that can drive strategic decision-making and operational efficiency.

When is the Best Time To Implement Restaurant Forecasting?

Timing is everything when it comes to forecasting. Here are some optimal moments to either conduct or update your forecasts:

  • Prior to Seasonal Changes: Adjust your forecasts to anticipate shifts in customer behavior or menu preferences with the change of seasons.

  • After Significant Events: If you've hosted a major event or noticed a surge in business due to a local event, update your forecast to reflect these changes.

  • When Introducing New Menu Items: New dishes can significantly affect your sales and inventory needs, making it a prime time to revise your forecast.

  • Annually and Quarterly: Regular updates ensure your forecasts remain relevant and reflective of your restaurant's growth and the changing market landscape.

Forecasting is a dynamic and continuous process that keeps your restaurant aligned with its financial goals and operational needs. By understanding and implementing the various methods and techniques of restaurant forecasting, you can ensure your business remains resilient, responsive, and ready for whatever the future holds.

Restaurant Forecasting Tools

In restaurant forecasting, leveraging the right tools can dramatically simplify the process and enhance accuracy. From basic spreadsheets to sophisticated software, here’s a look at some of the most effective tools at your disposal:

  • Spreadsheets (Excel/Google Sheets): For those just starting or preferring a hands-on approach, spreadsheets can be powerful tools for creating custom forecasts. They offer flexibility in managing data and can accommodate various forecasting models through formulas and graphs.

  • Restaurant Point of Sale (POS) Systems: Advanced POS systems go beyond transaction processing, offering built-in analytics and reporting features that track sales, customer visits, and menu item popularity. This real-time data is invaluable for accurate, timely forecasting.

  • Inventory Management Software: These tools help predict inventory needs by analyzing sales data, tracking stock levels, and even suggesting reorder points based on forecasted demand.

  • Labor Management Systems: For labor forecasting, these systems can analyze past staffing patterns against sales data to recommend optimal staffing levels for future periods, helping to reduce labor costs while maintaining service quality.

  • Dedicated Forecasting Software: There are also specialized forecasting tools designed for the restaurant industry, integrating sales, inventory, labor, and even weather data to provide comprehensive forecasts.

Choosing the right mix of tools depends on your restaurant’s size, complexity, and specific forecasting needs. It’s often beneficial to start with basic tools and gradually integrate more sophisticated systems as your operation grows and your forecasting needs become more nuanced.

How Technology Can Help With Restaurant Forecasting

Advancements in technology have made forecasting more accessible and accurate for restaurant owners. POS systems, for instance, automatically track sales data, providing a wealth of information for sales forecasting. 

Restaurant reservation apps can offer insights into customer booking habits, aiding in demand forecasting. Waitlist systems help understand peak times and customer flow, contributing to more effective labor and seating management. Integrating these technologies can significantly enhance your forecasting efforts, leading to more informed decision-making and operational efficiencies.


Mastering the art of restaurant forecasting is less about predicting the future and more about preparing for it. With the right approach and tools, you can turn data into actionable insights that drive your restaurant toward greater efficiency and profitability. Embrace the power of forecasting to navigate the ever-changing landscape of the restaurant industry confidently.

At Chowbus, we understand the critical role of effective forecasting in the success of your restaurant. That's why our all-in-one restaurant POS system is designed to elevate your operational efficiency and boost revenue through insightful reporting and analytics. From managing your restaurant's reservations to optimizing your waitlist system, Chowbus provides the technology and support you need to forecast with confidence and clarity. 

Interested in taking your restaurant's performance to the next level? Book a Free Demo/Consultation with Chowbus POS today and discover how our solutions can transform your forecasting efforts and overall operational success.

Frequently Asked Questions About Restaurant Forecasting

Explore the essentials of restaurant forecasting through our Frequently Asked Questions section. Here, you'll find insights on what forecasting entails in the food industry, examples of sales forecasts, and the significance of these practices for restaurants.

What is Forecasting in a Restaurant?

Forecasting in a restaurant involves predicting future sales, customer footfall, and inventory needs based on historical data, trends, and external factors such as holidays or local events. This process helps in efficient staff scheduling, managing food costs, and ensuring customer satisfaction by anticipating demand and preparing accordingly.

What is an Example of a Restaurant Sales Forecast?

An example of a restaurant sales forecast involves calculating potential earnings based on seating capacity and average meal costs. For instance, if a restaurant has 30 seats, with the average lunch meal costing $15 and drinks priced at $4, the maximum revenue from a full lunch service can be estimated. By multiplying the number of seats by the cost per meal and drink, we find:

  • For food: 30 seats x $15 each = $450

  • For beverages: 30 seats x $4 each = $120

Thus, the total expected revenue at full capacity for lunch would be $570. This method allows restaurant owners to forecast sales and plan accordingly.

Why is Forecasting Important in Restaurants?

Forecasting plays a pivotal role in restaurant management by predicting future customer demand. This foresight enables restaurants to optimize inventory levels, reduce waste, and ensure the availability of fresh ingredients. It aids in staff scheduling, ensuring that the restaurant is adequately staffed during peak times to maintain high service standards. 

Additionally, forecasting helps in financial planning, enabling restaurants to anticipate revenues and manage budgets effectively. By aligning operations with predicted demand, restaurants can enhance customer satisfaction, increase efficiency, and maximize profitability.

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