In many states, you will be required to submit a floor plan to the city to get a restaurant permit for the construction of a new restaurant. That means before demolition, electrical work, plumbing, and installation of kitchen appliances, you'll need to have an approved restaurant floor plan.
You may want to use restaurant floor planning software such as SmartDraw, ConceptDraw, or CadPro to create a customized floor plan yourself. Or you might opt to work with an interior design studio, leaving the process to professionals who know how to maximize space and create an appealing interior concept.
There is no one approach. Because when it comes to restaurant floor plans, one size does definitely not fit all.
But there is one goal all restauranteurs share: to delight guests.
“People these days are not just looking for good service, good food, and a good ambiance, but they're looking for an experience," restaurant interior designer Dala Al-Fuwaires told The Garnish podcast. "And the way we define experience is something that really activates all of your senses: smell, sound, sight, touch, taste. Being able to trigger all of the senses is the key to making you stand out.”
Consider all these factors from your customer's point of view, when you're thinking about your restaurant’s layout. What would it feel like to walk through? To sit down? To order a meal? What experience are you delivering to your diners?
A Word About Accessibility
Above all, you want your floor plan to be compliant with all building codes and be accessible and hospitable to all your guests.
“Restaurants are typically designed for their average customer, their typical customer," Restaurant architect Justin Alpert told us. "What we don't want to do is exclude customers who have accessibility challenges.”
Adhering to building codes is the bare minimum, Alpert said. Even if you have to forego one table in favor of making your dining room easier to navigate in a wheelchair, it’s the right thing to do, he added.
Before you start dreaming up your restaurant’s layout, you need to know the basics elements of a restaurant floor plan. You should also have an idea of which areas you want to invest the most in. Let's walk you through them.
The Elements of a Restaurant Floor Plan
1. The Entrance
"Never judge a book by its cover" is a nice idiom. But it doesn’t really apply to restaurants.
Diners frequently choose not to visit a restaurant based solely on its exterior, especially if they’re just walking by. Before a server even says hello to a guest, you need to ensure that your restaurant invites them inside.
Think of your restaurant exterior like a billboard: designed to attract fast-moving visitors visitors, said Ilan Dei, of Ilan Dei Studio in Venice, CA.
Dei, who designed the exteriors of the 12-unit Lemonade restaurant chain in Los Angeles, told Restaurant Development + Design Magazine, that while all of the Lemonades are modern, cafeteria-style stores, they all needed slightly different application of the billboard philosophy. For example, some are in malls with tons of foot traffic, while others are drive-by locations that needed to appeal from the street. In the latter locations, he installed floor-to-ceiling windows, allowing drivers to glimpse the stylish, inviting interiors from a distance.
Several common design elements tie all the restaurants together, including a customized door handle designed to look like two lemon wedges. Such fun touches aids in brand recognition and create a memorable customer experience.
2. The Waiting Area
Next, consider the waiting area or foyer. It's easy to completely overlook the waiting area, or add it as an afterthought. (Diners are squeezed into a small area while waiting for a table, or they're blocking the way of servers or other diners.)
But don't make that mistake, because the waiting area offers a great opportunity to show next-level hospitality.
For example, one simple way you can show your restaurant’s commitment to the guest experience is by implementing a free coat check.
“Restaurant operators can sacrifice a great deal of storage and sales opportunity, or the ability to open the room up more for bar seating. But at the end of the day, the coat check adds to the hospitality, even if only in the winter,” said Richard Coraine, senior managing partner of business development and consulting for Union Square Hospitality Group. He helped implement coat checks in Gramercy Tavern in New York.
Another simple guest-centric option is to place a host in the waiting area whose job it is to keep guests happy and at ease as they wait for their table, as Giovanni’s Restaurant in Copperas Cove, Texas has done. The right host must be an expert at reading body language and facial expressions of guests, and (if your restaurant can accommodate it), the host should know when to offer a drink or a free appetizer if the wait if the guests seem restless.
3. The Full-Service Bar
Your full-service restaurants might also have a bar that doubles as a waiting area, and allows you to serve more people. Below is an example of Bahama Breeze Island Grille’s floor plan for private dining. The full facility fits 152 people seated, and 300 for cocktail or standing room.
The more tables you have, of course, the more difficult it can be for servers and bartenders to navigate the space. Odd Duck in Austin, TX found a solution in Toast Go, a handheld restaurant POS system, which allows servers to split checks, take orders, take payment, and collect guest feedback right at the table or the bar.
4. The Dining Room
The dining room is arguably the most important part of the restaurant. Your dining room should be inviting, but intimate; spacious, yet welcoming. No matter how large the dining area might be, it should never feel cavernous to your guests. (Unless that's the concept you're going for, of course!)
How big should the dining area be? Total Food Service suggests that the dining area should take up 60% of the total area of a restaurant; the kitchen and prep areas should take up 40%.
You’ll also need to determine how much space you want to allocate for each guest based on maximum occupancy. This will be different for various types of restaurants, but Total Food Service suggests:
Fine Dining: 18-20 square feet
Full Service Restaurant Dining: 12-15 square feet
Counter Service: 18-20 square feet
Fast Food: 11-14 square feet
Banquet: 10-11 square feet
For example, a space of 5000 square feet will have a dining area with 3000 square feet and a kitchen of 2000 square feet. With 200 seat, the restaurant would provide roughly 15 square feet per seated guest.
It’s crucial to allow guests some elbow room. SeatingExpert.com suggests leaving at least:
18 inches between each occupied chair
42-60 inches between each square table
24-30 inches between corners of diagonal tables
In a study by Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, at a New York City fine-dining restaurant, researchers found that parties at closely spaced tables spent less per minute than those at widely spaced tables. Patrons seemed uncomfortable when freestanding tables were set as close as 17 inches apart and were more comfortable when the distance was closer to a yard apart.
The answer? Offer many different styles of seating at your restaurant, whether in benches, booths, diagonal seating, deuce tables, small tables, or banquet-style tables. Osteria La Spiga in Seattle, Washington does a great job of varying their seating options, below. Incidentally, this setup is also best for accommodating guests with disabilities.
5. The Kitchen
Floor-plan considerations are critical for kitchen staff, too, of course. A well-laid out kitchen will increase efficiency, reduce accidents, and increase overall staff happiness.
Below is an example from CadPro of a restaurant kitchen floor plan that includes space for goods receiving, inventory, dry storage, prep, cooking, dishes, a bathroom, and a staff changing room.
The cooking area is set up in a square, and the space is open, so chefs can communicate with each other while preparing meals. The best kitchen designs minimize the chance for sous chefs and cooks to bump into each other, and will reduce the time it takes to run a plate to where a waitress will pick it up. It should also include all the essential restaurant equipment and supplies.
6. The Restrooms
A clean bathroom signals a clean establishment throughout, and it shows that you care about your guests. In many restaurants, the bathroom -- like the waiting area -- is also an afterthought. But more than 80% of consumers say they would avoid a restaurant with a dirty or poorly maintained restroom, according to a survey by Zogby International.
Make sure your bathrooms are easy to access — without requiring guests to wander through the kitchen or requiring staff to wander through the dining room to use them. The example below is from design software AutoCAD. In it, the bathrooms are tucked away in the corner, by the back office. And there are two, including one that’s large enough for wheelchair access.
7. Staff Quarters / Back Room
“Back of house” doesn’t just apply to the kitchen – it’s important to think about all your employees’ space when designing a restaurant floor plan. Servers, sous chefs, hostesses, bartenders, bussers, barbacks, and all your staff will need a place to either gear up for a shift or unwind during a break in the action. The staff quarters are also an idea place to post your weekly or monthly schedule, leave announcements for staff, train new staff members, or hold pre-shift meetings.
In the example below from BrightHub, the staff quarters are right outside the dining room area and right next to the kitchen. The room is well located, and has a door, so employees can easily have a quick, private conversation.
8. Payment Station & POS System
Ben Kaplan of Barbara Lynch Gruppo describes a restaurant’s POS system as “the heartbeat of your restaurant.” The location of your POS in your restaurant can dramatically affect your business's efficiency.
You may need several POS terminals at different areas: one for the bartenders, one for the hosts, and one for the servers, as well as kitchen display screens for the kitchen staff. Or you may choose to minimize the amount of technology visible in your dining area, and opt for one terminal hidden away from guests.
To minimize staff running back and forth between the payment station and their tables, you can implement handheld point of sales, allowing guests to order, pay, sign, tip, and even rate the restaurant experience at the table.
The example below is from designer Raymond Haldeman who worked with La Fusion Lounge in Philadelphia, PA, where there are two POS stations at either side of the bar, so multiple bartenders aren’t bumping into one another.
(La Fusion, Philadelphia, PA)
9. Outdoor Areas
Your restaurant may have an outdoor patio or outdoor seating on the street – if you do, congrats! Because a well-set up patio can increase gross profits by an incredible 65%.
The ideal location for a patio is close to the kitchen and dining room, so servers don’t have to walk very far in between. The example below from Acapulco’s Mexican Restaurant in Denver, CO has the patio in the back of the restaurant, with round seating. The patio has seven tables and is close to the dining room and the bathrooms.
10. Emergency Exits
All restaurant floor plans must be created with emergencies in mind. Floor plan software SmartDraw gives the following example of a floor plan with its paths of egress marked in red.
After implementing a restaurant floor plan, you may be floored (pun intended!) by how efficient and beautiful it is.
Changing things up is always an option. Envysion reminds us: it’s perfectly fine to change seating arrangements from time to time. Poll your guests and employees, and test different layouts to find the best floor plan for your unique setup.
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