- Getting a restaurant floor plan right includes all parts of the restaurant, from the back of the house to the very front.
- Your kitchen layout will largely depend on the type of cooking your restaurant does.
- Be sure to put customer comfort on the same priority level as profitability when planning your front of house.
Restaurant owners will tell you that designing a restaurant floor plan is like playing Tetris. The pieces need to fit together just right or the whole business plan will be thrown off.
Whether you’re moving into a building that’s already established as a restaurant space or building from scratch, you’ll need to plan carefully to best utilize the space available to you. A good restaurant layout sets the stage for a good restaurant.
Every part of the restaurant needs consideration: the kitchen, the dining area, the waiting area, the bar, and even the restrooms. Regardless of your square footage, you can make a restaurant design that works for you and maximizes your business’s potential.
Perhaps you already have a business up and running and are looking to remodel, or perhaps you’re in the process of starting a new restaurant or are considering making one. Before you begin working on any of your restaurant floor plan, you need to ask yourself some questions:
- What is your style of food service? (e.g., fine dining, casual dining, fast casual, etc.)
- Who are your customers, or who do you expect them to be? (e.g., couples, families, students, senior citizens, etc.)
- How much space do you have to work with?
- What image do you want your restaurant to give off?
- What is your point of profitability?
Writing these answers down will help you get a gestalt-level idea of what you want to do with your restaurant. Each restaurant is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
However, there are good rules of thumb to follow when designing a floor plan, and it all starts with the core of the restaurant: your back of house.
The Restaurant Kitchen
As a rule of thumb, 40% of your total restaurant space should be dedicated to the back of house. If your kitchen staff is jammed together too tightly, they’ll find themselves in a hot, claustrophobic, stressful, possibly unsafe environment — and commercial kitchens have enough of that already. Besides your staff, you’ll also need room for food storage, server entry and exit, dish washing, and equipment.
Your kitchen design depends on a number of factors, including how many employees work in your kitchen and the volume of food you produce.
Popular kitchen layouts include:
- The assembly line, in which food moves from prep to cooking to serving like, well, an assembly line. Think of this as your traditional “line,” which is great for limited menus or food that requires similar methods of preparation.
- The island, in which all cooking is centralized in the middle of the kitchen. An island layout allows your head or executive chef to supervise effectively and cooks to move freely around the kitchen to different cooking stations.
- The zone, which is flexible and allows you to assign cooks to specific tasks rather than have one line cook make food from beginning to finish.
There is also the option of an open kitchen — an increasingly popular option that allows customers to see food being cooked. Such an option can be enticing to customers but requires kitchen staff to be on their best behavior since they’re constantly being watched.
The Dining Area
For many, the dining room is where the Tetris-like feel really comes into play. Knowing how to best use your space can lead to a better customer experience, more efficient work flow from your staff, and ultimately higher profits.
Restaurants working with a small amount of square feet will especially need to maximize their space without cramping customers. Although it’s a good idea to comfortably fit as many customers as you can in a restaurant, the word “comfortably” cannot be stressed enough. Here are some tips to help your restaurant be as profitable and comfortable as possible.
- Use your wall space wisely. The wall is a great space to add booths of 4-top tables while still allowing for easy access for servers. Additionally, tables against the wall add a degree of privacy that some customers may want.
- Add a variety of seating. If you have a combination of free-standing tables, booths or tables against the wall, or bar seating, your customers will be able to sit where they feel most comfortable.
- Leave plenty of space between tables and seats. Generally speaking, fine dining patrons expect more space than casual diners at a full-service restaurant. For your restaurant floor plan, assume around 20 square feet per customer for fine dining and 15 feet for casual dining. Rather than relying on numerical guidelines, however, do some test runs yourself during down times or before opening to see what space guidelines work best.
- Movable tables are your friend in small restaurants. Perhaps the most effective way to organize a small restaurant is to have tables of the same shape and size. This plan can help you put together a communal table for a large group which can then be broken down into individual tables afterwards.
- Don’t overlook accessibility and the ADA’s compliance guidelines. If your tables aren’t movable — for example, if they’re bolted to the wall or the floor — guidelines state you need at least 5% of the tables to be wheelchair accessible. Such tables will need adequate knee clearance, height, and other considerations.
Restaurants with more square footage have more leeway when it comes to table organization, whereas small restaurants will need to get more clever. The modular system of identical tables works well for small restaurants, while large restaurants can have varying sizes and shapes of tables.
Planning for Noise
While no one wants to eat in a place with the ambiance of a funeral parlor, noise is one of the most common complaints among diners these days. Unsurprisingly, many people expect to be able to have a conversation while dining. Striking the right balance between quiet and loud can be tricky, but doing so is crucial to the dining experience. With a combination of music, footsteps, other conversations, and utensils scraping against plates, noise can add up quickly in a restaurant. So how much is right?
An average conversation is around 60 decibels; anything over 80 decibels can be damaging to hearing after long exposure, and can certainly make having a conversation difficult.
So where’s the sweet spot? It depends on what kind of restaurant you have, of course — fine dining tends to be quieter than more casual, hip places — but a good number seems to be around 65-70 decibels. An interesting note is that at over 65 decibels, people have a hard time remembering what was said to them — so if many of your customers are discussing business while eating, keep the volume lower.
Concrete, metal, and other hard surfaces all reflect and amplify noise; softer surfaces like wood, curtains, and noise-dampening material like that used in recording studios can help reduce noise in your restaurant if it becomes a problem.
Noise levels can be checked with a simple sound meter. Test it at different parts of your restaurant during busy and quiet hours to see what you need to adjust.
The Waiting Area
A waiting area’s use depends largely on the style of a restaurant. Casual dining restaurants have a minimal waiting area, whereas fine dining restaurants are expected to have a larger area with a host and seating.
While this area may seem insignificant, don’t treat it as such — it’s close to the door, and can help you establish your brand since it’s the first thing customers see. Consider the decor and comfort carefully and make sure it matches your style throughout the restaurant.
If your restaurant has a bar, consider making the bar the waiting area — for good reason.
Not every restaurant has a bar, but every restaurant that has a bar should use it to its greatest effect. It can have several vital functions:
- It can serve as a waiting area, as mentioned above, where guests get a drink while they wait. This increases your sales and prevents guests from getting restless: a win-win scenario.
- You can place seats at the bar for individual customers, as spillover seating, or as another seating option for customers.
- The bar can be a place where customers choose to stay after they’ve finished their meal. Why try to get customers out the door when they can choose to migrate to the bar, spending more at your establishment?
- The bar can serve as an entertainment venue, where you can show off your drinks and your bartender’s mixology abilities.
Where you put the bar depends entirely on the layout of your restaurant and its focus. For example, it could be against one side wall, against a back wall, or in an island in the middle of the restaurant. Alcoholic beverages can add a great deal of profitability to your restaurant, whether your bartenders are pouring wine, beer, or cocktails.
Every restaurant needs restrooms, and they require some special consideration. Notably, restrooms are usually placed near the kitchen to share piping. Additionally, they’re usually placed away from the dining area to provide some privacy to customers.
If your restrooms are adjacent to the dining area, consider adding a divider to allow for privacy for those entering and exiting restrooms. Nobody wants an entire dining room staring at them as they walk out of the restroom.
The Missing Piece: Staff Members
Once your restaurant floor plan is set and ready to go, you’re ready for business — and for that you’ll need competent staff.
One thing all restaurateurs know is the difficulty in hiring and retaining quality staff, or even of making sure each shift is full. Servers, cooks, hosts, bussers, or dishwashers could all call in sick, quit unexpectedly, or ask for shift changes with short notice due to personal needs. Such is the life of a restaurant operator, and frustration is simply part of the game when managing staff.
Or at least, it used to be. Enter Pared. The Pared app is designed to help food service operators find the staff they need in as little as two hours. The best part? Our Pros are pre-vetted and ready to fill the role you need. So whether you’re short-staffed in your back of house, front of house, or everywhere, there’s no need to fret: Pared has you covered. Check out Pared and see what it’s like to never be short-staffed again.