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August 17, 2018 How to Optimize Your Restaurant Seating Arrangements (in 11 Steps)

restaurant seating arrangements

You may dream of a packed house with wall-to-wall tables. But that’s a nightmare for most patrons. Noise and overcrowding often result in those dreaded 1-star Yelp reviews.

So how can you strike a balance between turning a profit and treating guests to a great dining experience? Pull up a chair. It’s time to talk restaurant seating arrangements that benefit you – and your guests.

1) Measure Up

The first step involves measuring tape and a calculator. Yes, it’s time for a little math. Before planning your restaurant seating arrangements, identify – then measure – all possible seating areas. The total number should be in square footage.

As you measure space for restaurant seating arrangements, don’t forget private rooms or areas currently used for other purposes. Maybe it’s time to sell that vintage Ms. Pacman machine and make room for a 4-top. (You could join the nearly 3,000 restaurants offering guests tablet menus that double as handheld arcades.)

2) Give Guests a Little Space

Now that you have a total amount of usable square footage, the next step is estimating how many guests can be seated comfortably. There are many formulas for restaurant seating arrangements, but furniture supplier Central Seating recommends the following:

  • Spacious/Upscale: 14-20 square feet per patron
  • Full-Service: 12-15 square feet per patron
  • Banquet or Close Seating (best for casual concepts): 10-12 square feet per patron
  • Booths: 8-10 square feet per patron

Central Seating also suggests leaving a “strip” of about 4 feet along the bar.

3) Blaze a Path

The third step is to configure pathways and aisles. When creating restaurant seating arrangements, map out paths servers will take from tables to serving stations, the bar, and the kitchen. It should be direct as possible. How will guests get to the bathroom or to the bar? The aisles between seating should be at least 2 feet.

Most importantly, keep a clear pathway to your fire exits. Consult with your local fire marshal to ensure that your restaurant seating arrangements are up to code.

It’s worth mentioning here that restaurant seating arrangements should only accommodate your venue’s maximum capacity as per your fire code. Ask your fire marshal for that number and stick to it.

4) Invest in Moveable Seating (and Think Square)

To really optimize your restaurant seating arrangements, invest in tables and chairs that can be moved. Everyone loves cozy booths, but the downside is you’re stuck (literally) with that configuration.

When shopping tables, seek out small square tables that can sit 2, 4, or be linked together for restaurant seating arrangements that accommodate large parties.

5) Map it Out

Once you’ve figured out your spacing and furniture, the next step is to sketch out your restaurant seating arrangements to scale. Remember to respect those pathways and give guests their space based on the formulas in step #2.

You can go old school, with paper and pencil, or use new digital tools like Smartdraw to configure seating. Smartdraw includes professionally designed restaurant seating arrangements you can customize to your space.

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6) Set the Mood: Social and Exciting or Intimate and Chill?

Now, think about your target audience when creating restaurant seating arrangements. If you run a fine dining restaurant, guests expect a calmer, quiet atmosphere. Use decorative partitions or screens to add privacy and drown out conversations from the next table.

Or, if you operate a sports bar or neighborhood pub, your restaurant seating arrangements should invite socialization. You can get away with keeping tables closer together.

7) Mix it Up

The next step is to add some variety. Include booths or long benches pushed against the wall for quieter, private seating.

To give the illusion of a larger space, mix high tops and lower tables into your restaurant seating arrangements.

8) Minimize the “Undesirable” Areas

Every guest wants the seat near the window – and no one wants to be seated near the kitchen, right? Not so fast. Get creative to ensure there’s no bad seat in the house.

For example, install a trendy living wall of plants to block off the noise and sights of the kitchen. Hang up artwork from local painters or photographers to turn a bare wall into a visually stimulating scene.

9) Expand Space for Restaurant Seating Arrangements

The 9th step is to expand your mind. The best restaurant seating arrangements make the most of the space you have. But what about creating even more space? (Mind blown.)

  • Outdoors: Guests love dining al fresco – and you’ll love it, too. A report by Fast Casual found that adding outdoor seating could increase your revenue by 33%.
  • Rooftops: If you can’t expand outwards…then look upwards. Rooftop restaurant seating arrangements could be an option depending on zoning laws in your area.
  • Basements: Don’t forget the basement. Many bars and restaurants in the cool college town of Ann Arbor, Michigan – like Old German Bar – have turned stone-walled basements into hipster-approved hangouts.

10) Turn Tables Faster

Once you’ve mastered restaurant seating arrangements, your work isn’t done yet. How long guests sit at the table directly impacts your bottom line. To keep things moving along, more restaurants are switching to tablet menus.

Guests are able to browse a digital menu, place orders, and even securely pay – all on tablet menus. This technology speeds up the guest visit, while enhancing their experience along the way. Here’s why tablet menus are a win-win for you and your customers:

  • Guests can give into instant gratification, placing instant reorders on tablet menus without waiting for a server
  • When guests are finished dining, they can review their bill and securely pay using their credit card or smartphone…again, no server is needed!

Even with tablet menus, some guests stick around too long. That’s when you need to deploy these strategies for dealing with customers who won’t leave. One tip for restaurant seating arrangements that speed things up is to select seating that’s comfortable…but not too comfortable. Think wooden chairs or trendy reclaimed wood benches.

11) Consider OpenTable

Now that your restaurant seating arrangements are set, make it easy for guests to get the table they want. Online reservations are a pretty big deal for diners. According to Toast’s 2017 Technology Report, guests ranked the ability to make online reservations as the most important restaurant technology.

Reservation apps like OpenTable also double as table management software to optimize table flow and proper staffing. OpenTable is also an effective marketing tool for restaurants: 70% of OpenTable users report choosing restaurants they haven’t visited before.

The best restaurant seating arrangements take careful planning. But the end result is worth it when every guest feels like they scored the best seat in the house.