On the Line / Accounting / What is a Cover in a Restaurant?

What is a Cover in a Restaurant?

Calculating cover can provide valuable insight into your restaurant's finances. Here is some more insight into what cover is, and how to best use it in your business.

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DISCLAIMER: This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal, accounting, tax, HR, or other professional advice. You are responsible for your own compliance with laws and regulations. You should contact your attorney or other relevant advisor for advice specific to your circumstances.

If you’ve ever spent any time in a restaurant at the end of a shift, you’ll probably hear staff talking about how many covers the restaurant did that night. 

The key to restaurant financial success is keeping track of metrics, and the cover is one of them. Here’s a primer on what covers are, how to use this metric in your restaurant to project sales, staff appropriately, and increase server effectiveness. 

What is a cover in a restaurant?

What is a cover in restaurant terms? The term cover in a restaurant refers to one meal, or one customer served in a restaurant. Generally, you’ll find that the term cover refers to a guest served during a given period of time. 

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How can covers be used as a useful metric in your restaurant?

Covers are a valuable metric for forecasting your business. Here are a few ways that keeping track of covers can help you in your restaurant. 

Projecting sales 

Tracking covers, or the number of customers or meals served, is useful in identifying sales trends. By capturing this data, you can then look at trends day to day, both with sales and inventory. Using the average cover in conjunction with the average customer headcount can determine the sales projection for a certain time period. 

For example, if you usually sell 50 pancake breakfasts every Friday morning, you can infer over time that that trend will continue, and be able to stock and prep the ingredients accordingly. And, if the average cover is $15, you would be able to infer the projected sales for every Friday morning, as well. 


Similarly, you can match labor supply to the amount of demand you expect at a certain time using the labor cost per cover calculation. By tracking the number of customers throughout each day, you can staff accordingly – and hopefully, avoid over or understaffing. 

Server effectiveness 

Calculating the average cover per server is one way to measure how effective your servers are at generating sales. This can give you a better understanding of who is doing well with upselling and suggestive selling, and who might need some more training. 

How do you use cover in calculations? 

Here’s how to calculate each of these metrics. 

Average cover 

Average cover, or average per cover, refers to the average price per customer meal. This is an average across all customers at all times of the day. Here is how to calculate the average cover: 

Average cover = total sales / total number of customers served 

Labor cost per cover

This is a way to determine how much it costs to serve each customer and help you adequately staff your restaurant. If staffing is appropriate, this number should stay relatively consistent. For example, if you have 10 staff members and 200 customers on a busy day, your labor cost should be similar to a day when you have 5 staff members and 100 customers. 

Here is how you calculate labor cost per cover: 

Labor cost per cover = total labor cost / total covers 

Average cover per server 

This is very similar to the average cover overall but is instead calculated per server (not the whole restaurant). This tells you how effective each server is at selling to guests. 

Here is how to calculate the average cover per server: 

Average cover per server = total sales per server / number of customers served


When used correctly, cover calculations can provide valuable insight into your restaurant’s finances. For more information on essential restaurant performance metrics, and numbers to keep an eye on, check out this article.


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