It’s the most basic rule of business: the more customers you have, the more money you can make. Restaurant owners’ dream of a dining area filled to capacity with happy guests – eating, drinking and having a good time. While maximising the number of guests your eatery can accommodate is a sensible approach it’s actually a delicate balancing act between optimising your revenue on one hand and providing a pleasant dining environment on the other. Just as too many cooks can spoil the broth, too many customers, all jammed into an impractically small space, is a recipe for disaster.
So, how can you ensure that your restaurant or cafe is making the best use of the available space whilst still making sure that your diners don’t feel like agoraphobic battery hens? As the one of the UK’s leading providers of restaurant furniture to the hospitality industry we are delighted to offer some straightforward advice on the important things to consider in the layout of your dining area.
First, engage brain
Let’s start off with the basics: what kind of restaurant or eating experience do you want to provide? At one end of the scale fast food establishments emphasise speed and customer throughput: the majority will be in and out in five minutes flat – hello and goodbye. At the exact opposite end of the spectrum lies the fine dining experience: guests who expect to be seated in comfort for the length of an entire service. Your restaurant or hotel dining area will probably lie somewhere in between, but it does provide an idea of how your desired dining experience shapes the initial ideas around acceptable levels of space per customer.
Secondly, consider the type of seating you envisage in your restaurant or cafe. Does it revolve solely around free standing tables and chairs in a communal dining area or perhaps something more intimate with booths? Will there be a bar area or somewhere similar where guests can wait for a table – if so, what seating arrangements will they have? Bar Stools are great for enjoying a cocktail while you wait to be seated, while sofas and easy chairs invite guests to relax and unwind.
It’s important that you have a clear idea of your vision before pen is put to paper. Your aspirations for the dining experience will inform what works and what won’t when it comes to layout and maximising available space.
Plan, plan, plan…and then plan some more
You don’t have to be a Van Gogh when it comes to outlining your dining area layout, but you do need to be as accurate as possible. Make sure you know the exact dimensions of the public areas of your new restaurant or cafe. Simply guessing isn’t an option here. Draw an outline of the area with the fixed features such as pillars, stairs, toilets, entrances, exits and kitchen access in place – these are fixtures that (short of major building work) you need to work within. This is your basic plan. By photocopying this you now have an accurate template which you can use to try out as many different combinations of layout as you desire – without it becoming an unintelligible scribbled mess, filled with crossings out which is nigh on impossible for anyone to decipher!
Using this template you are now in a position to experiment with a layout which maximises the available space in your restaurant.
Tables not chairs
When planning capacity in a restaurant it’s vital to think tables not chairs. Here’s an example: imagine your restaurant filled with four person tables only. While there might be someone at each table it’s unlikely that guests will arrive in neat blocks of four – so while all the tables might have people eating at them there’s likely to be a lot of empty chairs. A single diner, couple or group of three will expect to be accommodated on a table by themselves – meaning that one or more chairs are empty and therefore a waste of valuable space.
For this reason a smart restaurant layout features a range of table sizes – smaller tables for individuals and couples to enjoy a closer dining experience, four person tables for families and smaller groups and maybe one or two larger tables for big groups. The best arrangement is one that can be easily altered and adapted for customers needs – a four person table can quickly have a smaller table added to it to cope with a group of six. Flexibility in your assortment of dining area tables enables you to easily adapt your seating arrangement to match the requirements of the clientele.
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When maximising space means optimising space…
When it comes to larger dining rooms you may feel you have an embarrassment of riches, but lots of space to play with doesn’t mean you should immediately fill it to capacity. If you are providing a fine dining experience then customers will expect much more room between tables – they certainly aren’t going to be paying premium prices for the pleasure of sitting in other diner’s laps. Ensure that your layout leaves plenty of space around individual tables – both large and small. Maximise your capacity by taking advantage of any cosy little nooks which favour couples who will relish an intimate, out of the way placing.
Conversely smaller restaurants can easily get away with a closer arrangement of tables since they only serve to reinforce a homely feeling of informal warmth. However, at the very minimum you should allow sufficient space for waiting staff (and customers of varying sizes) to pass without the constant need for a diner to move. A customer who is repeatedly bumped won’t be back…
Finally, ensure that your layout is adaptable for those with special needs, with space for highchairs and easy access for wheelchairs or people with mobility issues.
A well planned restaurant layout, complete with a good mix of varying size tables, is the golden rule for providing the flexibility to maximise both space and revenue.
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