It’s a balance between seating as many people as is reasonably possible, allowing for foot traffic and efficient table service, to ensuring that customers don’t feel too crowded at their table. As an owner or manager, you want to maximize the number of patrons who can be seated at one time, which increases revenue. Far too often, that results in a crowded, claustrophobic space that can be uncomfortable for your customers, difficult for your servers to navigate quickly, and eventually lead to a drop-off in business.
While there is no one “right” way to lay out a restaurant or bar, there are some things which it’s a good idea to consider carefully. In this post, we’ll take a look at some common factors that should be considered, and we’ll also look at some specifics based on the type of establishment.
Fine / Intimate Dining
Obviously, you’d want to focus on smaller tables, suitable for two patrons. However, you’ll also want to allow for some flexibility, such as parties of 4 or 6, which can often be accommodated by placing 2 or 3 tables together.
An important factor here is creating a sense of intimacy and privacy without sacrificing too many tables. It’s probably a good idea to allow a space of no less than 42” between diners in different parties, which would provide separation and intimacy, as well as offer servers and other staff enough room to move around. This can be accomplished, in part, by changing the orientation of the seats at each table to allow for more separation while allowing for more tables.
You’ll likely be considering smaller tables, with sized in the area of 24” x 24” (square) or 32” (round.) It can be a good idea to mix table shapes, in order to offer some variety to the look, however, uniformity in table shape might be more in step with your aesthetic.
Upscale Specialty Dining
These types of establishments will often tend to attract medium to large parties for a variety of occasions, while still appealing to couples and parties of four. So, it’s important to plan for more flexibility, which often means square or rectangular tables of uniform size and height. Of the two, height may be the more important consideration in order to easily and seamlessly put tables together for larger parties.
It’s often desirable to place patrons in the same party a little closer together in Specialty Dining, in order to make the experience more communal and allow easier sampling between diners. But be wary of placing seats too close together, as this may make people uncomfortable.
Bar and Grill / Casual
If you’re dealing with a mix of the “happy hour” and casual dining clientele, you’ll want to consider a good mix of table and seating types. You may even want to consider varying table height, as well as table sizes. The overall idea will be to create a mix of tables for parties of 2, 4, 6, and even 8. Separating parties isn’t a top consideration for these establishments, as most partons probably won’t be looking for intimacy. Still, offering a few smaller tables which are a bit isolated is something worth considering. Additionally it’s not quite as important to offer a large amount of elbow room, as most patrons will be comfortable sitting closer to one another, and parties will often spread out to several adjacent tables.
A key layout objective will be to provide clear paths for patrons to move around, as well as offering servers and staff a way to efficiently go between clusters of patrons. And, if you have pool tables or other games, you’ll want to be sure to place some tables nearby, while allowing for room to play the game.
Again, a mix of table sizes will be important. However, if the space is already built out, you may be facing booths or fixed table positions, which you may not be able to move. In general, you’ll probably want to stick with square or rectangular tables or the same height. Clear paths for patrons and staff to use will be important, as will a generous table size, in order to accommodate condiments, menus and other items.
Depending on location and clientele, you may be catering to a large number of patrons who will come for a “working lunch.” They will often request larger tables, in order to be able to utilize laptops or notebooks. These diners will place a premium on factors like table stability, as well as room to move about a little. For these clients, consider slightly larger tables placed in lower traffic areas.
A Few Final Thoughts
There are many other factors that will go in to your choice of table and seating options. Things like offering servers short paths between the kitchen and tables, or making sure there is a clear path to the restroom for diners, and other foot traffic management techniques are just a few of those considerations. Aesthetics and other decor play a part. The kind of dining experience you want to create for your customers is another key to selecting the right tables.
No matter what you’re clientele or establishment type, you’ll want to ensure that you’re also considering quality of construction. Having to replace furnishings piecemeal can be daunting, since finding a match for a table you bought 2 years prior may be difficult. And never underestimate the negative impact of a wobbly table on the dining experience. It’s a good idea to buy fewer items of higher quality, ensuring that you get the longest possible service life from your furniture.
No matter what kind of establishment you’re buying for, think about what you, yourself, would want as a patron. What kind of seating do you find comfortable and attractive? What would make you tell others about the seating, both good and bad? If you work with those things in mind, you’ll probably find it a lot easier to make the right choices.