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How to Design a Small Restaurant

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Tessa ZuluagaAuthor

Tyra Banks once said, “I don’t go to the cool, trendy restaurants. I go to either hole in the wall or the super-fancy restaurants…” 

Bigger certainly doesn’t mean better when giving your guests a memorable dining experience and a tasty meal. Efficient design is the key to creating an attractive ambiance when working in a small space. Think of designing your restaurant the same way you would think of designing a small but homey apartment - It can be cozy but also stunning!

In this article about small restaurant design, we will walk you through:

  • A variety of different design tips for your small restaurant 

  • Best practices to optimize efficiency for your business 

  • Real examples that apply these practices successfully 

Now, let’s dive into it!

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Restaurant Floor Plan Templates

Use these restaurant floor plan templates to get inspired as you map, or reimagine, the layout and space setup for your restaurant.

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Design with Efficiency in Mind

We can’t ignore the elephant in the room - you don’t have a lot of space to work with. Fortunately, with max efficiency in mind, you can create an attractive and accessible floor plan. 

Start by taking yourself through the steps of service to see how easily your front-of-house staff can move in-between tables. How many tables can you max fit into your space without creating clutter? How about back-of-house? Can the chef move without running into a food runner? 

Experts also agree you should allocate 60% of your total space for the dining area and 40% for the kitchen and prep area. This ratio allows enough room for your staff and guests to feel comfortable.

Here are a few max efficiency-driven restaurant decor tips:

  • Decorative jars on shelves filled with necessary items such as silverware

  • Use the ceiling to hang decor if possible

  • Think quality over quantity - with less room, choose your art and/or lighting strategically 

Hunter’s Kitchen & Bar in South Boston is a small restaurant with a big southern personality. Hunter’s optimizes its space beautifully, using rustic decor designed by Assembly Design Studio.

Table for Two

It’s essential to consider your dining space when setting up your small restaurant. Don’t underestimate tables for two! Instead of large tables, purchase several tables with room for two diners. This way, you have the space for small parties and can still push the tables together for larger groups.

Nine Restaurant & Bar located in New York City uses tables of two to leave lots of room for the front-of-house staff to move around. Also, notice how beautiful they made their small space!

Spots for TVs

One factor that can limit small restaurants is the lack of entertainment space. Sometimes it's hard to fit a live band or a karaoke stage inside smaller restaurants. However, you can provide entertainment through televised sports games and other channels. 

The goal here is to place your TVs strategically throughout your restaurant. First, think about the best views from the tables - where can your customers see the TVs the best? Second, hang your TVs high enough to avoid taking up space. Lastly, purchase the right TV size that is both viewable and compact enough.

Welcoming Entryway

What makes your restaurant desirable? How can you stand out from massive competitors? One obvious but effective way is to build a welcoming entryway. People love the aesthetic of a hole-in-the-wall or family-owned restaurant. One way to showcase this is through a warm welcome. An intriguing entrance can make a hungry guest wonder inside. 

Forty Dean Street is a family-run Italian restaurant and bar located in Soho. As you can see, its entrance is very inviting. When peering into a place designed like this, you already know they have delicious food.

Inviting but Safe

When creating your beautiful space, make sure it’s also a safe one. One major issue small restaurants have is crowding. 

You must have an established waiting area for your guests and a backup plan if the waiting area fills up. Don’t be afraid to ask your guests to please wait outside until their table is ready. Technology such as OpenTable can help, as you can simply text the guest when their table is ready so that they don’t have to wait on-site. Another pro-tip is to install an entry and an exit door if possible. This way, traffic runs smoothly through your restaurant, keeping people from running into each other. 

South Boston’s Fat Baby is a small sushi restaurant with beautiful, bright decor. Fat Baby does a great job keeping its capacity at a safe number and spacing out its tables to ensure safety for everyone.  

Consider your bar’s location 

Large restaurants can separate bar and dining areas, while small restaurants don’t always have that luxury. Small restaurants should consider placing their bar in the center. Making your bar the focal point of your restaurant will help it catch a customer’s attention. 

Nevertheless, your priority is to build what makes the most sense for your space. If placing your bar in a corner gives you more room, then do that! Make sure your bar is at least 6 feet away from your dining areas and matches your overall concept. 

Curious about more bar design ideas? Discover our latest post on bar design.

Keep 'em coming back for more

When creating your interior design plan, keep your demographic and menu in mind. Your design is more than just a background. And there’s more to ambiance than just pretty lights and soft music. Design styles come and go, but the experience you give your guest will remain. It’s time to design a small restaurant that no one can forget!

Related Small Restaurant Resources

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SOPs Template

This template will help you create SOPs for your entire business, so you can create consistency and easily train employees.

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