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The layout of your restaurant can create a special atmosphere and experience for your customers. It also plays a crucial role in building an efficient and well-run restaurant. The key to designing a restaurant floor plan that does all of this? You need to design very deliberately.
We sat down with Tim Felker, a serial entrepreneur in San Francisco, to learn all about best practices for creating restaurant floor plans.
3 elements of a strong restaurant floor plan
Your floor plan needs to marry efficiency and functionality for your staff, and look appealing to your guests. To get started, Tim recommends putting yourself in your guests’ shoes.
“Ask yourself, when guests walk in, what are they going to experience? How are they going to be walked from the hostess stand or what will they see waiting to be seated? If guests are ordering at the counter, what is their experience? What’s the flow like?”
From your guests’ entrance, determine how they will get where they need to go.
“What are they going to see on the way to the restroom or their table? Are they going to see some art? Are they going to see a piece of marketing? The kitchen? Are they going to come in contact with the things that are going to help them along their experience, like a sign that directs them? Or will they have to order and pick up their coffee, then walk 100 steps to get over to where the cream and sugar are?”
Walking through your guests’ full experience should determine how the restaurant flows in the front of house. Then you can begin to create a strong back-of-house plan that allows your staff to seamlessly connect both portions of your space.
Here are the three elements of that overall floor plan to pay attention to:
Make a strong first impression
“I think a lot about sight lines,” says Tim. “As soon as somebody comes in, even if staff is busy talking with someone, a guest should be greeted with a smiling face or some eye contact or a little wave, or ‘We’ll be right with you,’.”
To achieve that, employee stations should face the door to put multiple sets of eyes on the entrance at all times to make sure every guest gets a greeting.
“Those things really matter because if you walk into a business and you do a whole lap around the restaurant, or cafe, or retail store, and no one has greeted you, there hasn’t been eye contact, you haven’t even seen an employee, you might just walk out. You may not ever see a need to come back,” he says.
The key takeaway here is that how to navigate your front of house should be very clear to guests. Figuring out how to speak to a server, order a drink at the bar, or seat yourself are all things guests should be able to understand quickly.
You may also want to greet guests with an eye-catching entrance or a host stand. Fun features like this accomplish something beyond functionality — they also serve as an appealing feature for the Instagram crowd, who will share their photos and help generate more buzz for your eatery.
After creating your entrance, have a comfortable waiting area with chairs so people don’t leave if there’s a wait. This area should also have a relaxed, friendly ambiance to ensure that hungry customers are excited about the meal to come.
Design a striking dining room
Next up: the dining room. Your space should be beautiful, while ensuring people feel comfortable whether they are wearing a suit or jeans. Seating should encourage diners to want to stay awhile.
Here are a few dining room tips:
Focus on the food
Often, a striking dining room is relatively simple in aesthetic so the food can stand out. Simple dining room tables and materials such as wood or brick withstand the time test and help create a warm ambiance. If you choose to create an open kitchen plan, allowing diners to see the action, simple furniture helps to draw attention there.
Create a thoughtful dining layout
When laying out the tables, think about the walk-through areas shared by servers, food runners, and customers. You want to maximize your space but also leave enough room for people to pass without accidents or spills. When measuring and planning how large walk-through areas should be, keep in mind how space is affected when customers move their chairs.
Think furniture first
Whatever your style, planning furniture ahead of time pays off. “I generally recommend to select all your furniture right away when you design your space — do this really early — not later on,” says Tim. “You want to know your exact table dimensions, the size of your chairs. You want to know where your server stations are going to be, the exact size and dimensions of those, to ensure everything fits together and flows.”
The typical architectural standard for restaurant tables is 300 square inches per diner. You want to incorporate that into varying table numbers, including two-tops, four-tops, and possibly a larger option for parties of six or eight.
Be strategic with serving stations
To serve your customers as efficiently as possible, don’t make your server stations an afterthought. If you plan for them at the beginning of the process, you can ensure that they’re integrated into the design and aren’t an eyesore. You want one serving station per every 22 seats in the restaurant. Place them throughout the space so servers don’t have to travel too far to grab water, butter, silverware, etc.
Light it up
You likely need a combination of lighting to create a well-lit, functional space. You can use beautiful ambient lighting to set the mood, task lighting to provide enough light to maneuver safely, and accent lighting to give the decor that wow factor. Restaurants use five to seven times more electricity than other commercial buildings, according to Energy Star. When choosing your lighting, consider buying energy-efficient bulbs and equipment to help cut costs. (You should also consider purchasing appliances that use less energy.)
Configure a usable kitchen
After the dining room, you need to think about designing a kitchen configuration that allows staff to efficiently create meals at a fast pace. You also want an ergonomic design that minimizes movement in the kitchen so no one is bumping into each other.
Again, Tim recommends putting yourself in the position of each role on your staff to create the best flow.
“So if I’m a server, or if I’m a line cook, or if I’m a dishwasher, I go through my day,” he says. “If I’m a dishwasher, where are the dishes coming in from? I’m going to wash them, and then where am I going to put them afterwards? Are they going to go directly back to the shelves, or are they going to have to cross a line where four other people are working?”
“Draw out everybody’s flow and ensure people’s lines are crossing as minimally as possible. Consider the flow of people, the flow of items, of hot food, of cold food, of empty dishes once they get bussed. And once you’ve kind of done that, you can be really confident,” he says.
This also means the appropriate ingredients and tools should be easily accessible to each staff member. To do this, you may create an assembly line configuration, zone configuration, or island-style configuration.
An assembly line configuration
is ideal for kitchens that serve a lot of people quickly. This is also ideal for restaurants with limited menus that make a lot of the same food, such as sandwiches or pizza.
A zone configuration
puts the major equipment along the walls, leaving the center space wide open. This allows for strong communication and seamless movement.
An island configuration
puts the ovens, ranges, fryers, grills, and other principle cooking equipment together, side by side, at the center of the kitchen. The other sections of the kitchen are placed on the perimeter walls in the proper order to preserve a circular flow in the kitchen.
You also want to ensure that you have sufficient storage to keep your dry goods, cleaning products, etc., readily available.
How to plan your restaurant layout
To get started planning your restaurant layout, either use your building plan to determine the dimensions of your space or go in and take measurements yourself.
Then map out the primary spaces in your restaurant. A good rule of thumb is to have the dining area take up 60 percent of the total area and the kitchen, cooking, and storage areas take up the other 40 percent. A national poll of restaurateurs conducted by Restaurantowners.com found that the average kitchen space was 1,051 square feet.
Keep in mind how much space your staff needs to work and move around, and what kind of space and environment your diners need to feel comfortable. Then get to work. There are a number of tools you can use to help design your space, like RoomSketcher, SmartDraw, and floorplanner.com.
However you decide to set up your space, don’t forget that it should be functional for your staff and beautiful and comfortable enough to encourage customers to return, all while showing off the real star of the show, your food.