Configuring a dining & bar area for a restaurant is not as easy as it sounds. There are a lot of different factors that go into planning, as just dropping a few chairs and tables anywhere will not suffice. There are a number of things one should examine closely before finalizing floor plans and making final purchases. Variables come in all shapes and sizes, and dining rooms require much forethought. Here are a few things that should be taken into consideration when shopping for bar / restaurant furniture, and when putting together a floor plan for your dining area.
Décor: Décor is important when choosing the style and design of furniture like booths, tables, and chairs, but it can also factor into your intended floor plan. For example, a chain restaurant or sports bar that has a hodgepodge of found items on the walls may need wider wall tables and booths than something a bit more minimalist. Sure, you would like to get the smaller table because it’s cheaper, but how will your customers feel when that tuba hanging from the wall keeps them from having a conversation? Conversely, the furniture you choose must be able to fit the specifications needed in a number of categories, not just the décor. It’s great if you find elegant booths that match perfectly, but if they are too large, they will limit the number of people being sat, and can increase wait times.
Floor Plan / Dining Area Layout: Let’s face it, no two restaurants have identical dining and bar areas. Layout becomes essential when configuring your dining area.
- First off, the placement of the hostess stand is incredibly important, as it is the first thing patrons are greeted with upon entering. There needs to be a proper hostess stand, as well as an adequately sized waiting area for busy periods. Different restaurants will have different rush sizes; the expected turnover times for tables and number of waiting guests must be taken into consideration. For example, a restaurant right next to a theatre will most likely have a rush before plays, and may have large numbers of guests that are in a hurry.
- Secondly, the bar area has to be taken into consideration. An adequately sized bar can not only seat diners and bar patrons, but it can also serve as a waiting area for customers waiting for tables. Additionally, bear in mind that servers will be traveling back and forth to the bar area for drinks. There must be a pathway to a section of the bar exclusively for servers to get drinks so your employees do not have to shout over customers in a rush.
- Third, and possibly most important, is access to your kitchen, expedite station, and registers. Servers and bussers are constantly in motion during a busy shift, not only carrying food and plates, but drinks, add-ons (extra sauces, napkins, etc.), and the check as well. A dining room configuration must flow; easy passage for servers and customers is essential when you have a full house. It can reduce wait times, increase table turnover rates, and even reduce overhead costs by limiting collisions, dropped food, and damaged plates.
- Finally, a patio or an outdoor dining area must also fit into the plans if your restaurant has one. A patio can nearly double seating, and encourage more foot traffic on sunny days, however, it is only a temporary extension of your dining area. Sure, it adds extra seating on the nice days, but when it is raining or cold, what happens when the customers keep coming in? Additionally, those chairs and tables will be taking up a significant amount of extra storage space when they aren’t being used, so be sure to have a place in mind for them during the winter months.
Customer Traffic: Realistic customer expectations must be determined before configuring a dining room. This can be hard to do for new restaurants, but it nonetheless plays a critical role in minimizing wait times and increasing table turnover.
- The number of patrons must be maximized, while simultaneously not limiting party sizes by too much. For instance, a family style Italian restaurant’s seating should not consist of a bunch of small two top tables, nor should a romantic dinner location be all large tables. It is important to limit the amount of table moving that has to happen to for a large party, while still keeping realistic expectations as to how many of those large parties will be walking in the door. That being said, since few restaurants would want to turn away large parties of customers, have a plan of attack ready for when that family of 10 walks in the door.
- The frequency of advanced reservations is also a key factor in determining proper seating configurations. Some restaurants are reservations only, and should be, as they are so busy that it would be impossible to accommodate walk-ins. For most restaurants though, it is often the best idea to set aside some tables for reservations before service, and fill them with walk-ins if there is a lack of or cancelled reservations.
- Adjacent businesses can affect your restaurant’s rush size. It is important to take into consideration patrons that will be brought in from your neighbors. If we look at the example posed earlier, if a restaurant is located next to a theatre, there will most likely be large rushes before and after shows. The larger the theatre or adjacent events, the larger the rushes will be. The lone bar next to a sports arena will have significantly larger rushes than one next to a mid-sized music venue or theatre.
It can be incredibly painstaking to choose a final dining room and bar configuration, and though these tips are important, as earlier stated, there are large numbers of variables to be taken into account. Luckily, Professor Gary Thompson from the Cornell School of Hotel Administration has created both an online and downloadable Microsoft XCEL version of a Restaurant Table-Mix Optimizer that allows users to input a number of variables to achieve the maximum average value (contribution margin or revenue) per available space-hour (VPASH).