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Six Considerations for Your New Restaurant Floor Plan

Best Practices for Efficient Service and an Enhanced Dining Experience

Queensyard, New York City. (Will Stanley)
Queensyard, New York City. (Will Stanley)

If you're opening a new restaurant or renovating an existing one, coming up with a new floor plan is part art and part science. The ultimate goal is to give your dining establishment a unique feel that will keep customers coming back, while also sticking to some tried and true interior design strategies.

We consulted two restaurant design experts on the questions to consider and best practices to implement when you embark on a restaurant design project:

1. How to Divide Up the Space
The dining area and the kitchen will take up the majority of space in your restaurant. While layouts can vary, follow this rule of thumb when it comes to space:

"A typical allocation of space for dining and kitchen areas might use a 60:40 ratio; 60% is for the dining area, and 40% is for the kitchen," says Kana Ahn, senior interior designer at CetraRuddy, a New York-based architecture and interior design firm.

If it's more of a fast-casual style, for example, in which diners order at the counter off of a simple menu, you might only need to dedicate 20% of the space to the kitchen, and 80% for the dining and other areas, says Kip Serfozo, design director, East, for Cini-Little, a foodservice consultant, planning, and designing firm based in Germantown, Md.

2. Which Kitchen Layout Will Be Most Ideal
Layout of the kitchen space itself is the key element of a successful restaurant operation, and needs to be thoughtfully planned from the earliest stages of the design process. This requires a close collaboration between ownership, the chef, the designer, and a kitchen consultant, advises Ahn.

Different styles might be more effective for different types of cooking and service, but in general, you can't go wrong with a rectangular shaped room for the kitchen, says Serfozo.

“This [shape] works well for minimizing steps and making an efficient work station, since most work equipment is rectangular," he says.

As for placement, Serfozo cites the galley layout as most popular, one in which there's a counter, an aisle, and another counter on the other side so everyone is working in one direction.

3. How the Restaurant Will Be Used
Even if your main vision is to be a place for couples and small groups to enjoy a meal, it's important to think about your restaurant's potential mix of uses from the get-go.

“That early-stage planning helps ensure flexibility is integral to the design concept, and prevents hiccups down the road," says Ahn.

For example, her team often works with clients who intend to use the restaurant space for activities and entertainment, including private parties and events, but also works in space for DJ booths and stages that could even accommodate small concerts.

“Knowing the type and frequency of intended uses is important, as it lets us design from the start with flexible options such as movable furnishings, which allow for quick changes to the layout without requiring modifications to major architectural and décor elements," she says.

Serfozo agrees, adding that building in flexibility is key. “You want it so that if you do have a private party you can close off the area, but when you don't, you want it to look like one cohesive restaurant," he says.

Bluebird, New York City. (Evan Sung)

4. What the Dining Room Set-Up Will Look Like
The first step is to identify the major zoning divisions, such as a bar area, casual dining area, private dining area, restrooms, etc., says Ahn. “Once these areas are blocked out within the restaurant space, the selection and placement of each type of furniture—and the scale of that furniture—becomes the key to enhancing flexibility," she says.

For example, instead of specifying a single large table for a 12-seat communal dining zone, it's usually more effective to incorporate three smaller tables that work equally well when placed together for a big group or pulled apart to accommodate three separate groups of four.

Many restaurants also have distinct areas or mini-rooms within their dining space, says Serfozo. “There's a lot of nice-looking partitions you can use that are portable, including different furniture pieces that allow you to separate the dining areas," he says.

Another popular tip: Using planters or a greenery element to section off an area while creating a unique, aesthetic environment.

5. How to Best Optimize Seating Options
Furniture shouldn't be an afterthought—it's important to consider from your restaurant's inception, says Ahn.

“Thinking about seating and table types from the start, alongside decisions about overall program and major architectural elements, is the only way to integrate seating capacity into an impactful, coherent design vision for the restaurant," she says.

The trend now is to provide guests with a variety of seating options, adds Serfozo, especially if you are catering to people of different generations. Some younger diners may enjoy small bites sitting at the bar, or even standing around a cocktail table, he says, while an older population will appreciate something more comfortable with larger seats.

"The other trend is that table sizes are getting smaller," he says, so you can really maximize space provided that your serveware is also on the smaller side. Other creative ways to use your real estate include bar seating—stools should have a back on them and a foot rest, suggests Serfozo. You might also consider a row of seating along a window wall for single diners.

6. Ways to Ensure Access and Comfort in Additional Areas
Besides the kitchen and dining areas, it's important to plan for the flow of foot traffic in and out of your restaurant. “If the restaurant has a large entertainment venue, more space has to be allocated for waiting and coat check. In more formal dining environments, the waiting area's size is less important, but generous circulation at the entry is key," says Ahn.

There's also been a trend toward having larger bar areas, so that's something to consider in your layout. “Today's patrons and diners not only drink at the bar after hours, but many guests also drink and eat small bites of food at bar settings throughout the day," says Ahn.

For example, at Queensyard—a new venue within The Shops and Restaurants at Hudson Yards in New York City—Ahn's team worked with D&D London to make the bar itself larger and deeper, so it can better serve as a dining surface. “That kind of market-responsive approach is key to a successful restaurant design," she says.

Another factor to consider is the growing demand for take-out options thanks to third-party delivery services like DoorDash and UberEats.

“One of the big things people aren't planning correctly is the pre-order and pick up area," says Serfozo. “Having a dedicated space that doesn't clog up the waiting area for your traditional customers who are coming and eating there is key," he says.

Think through where your customers will hang out to wait for a table on a busy night. You might have some seating near the front, or benches outside, weather permitting. If you're targeting young families, you'll need a place to park strollers and stack high chairs.

Finally, your designer should know the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements inside and out, since following it will ensure your restaurant is accessible to all and that restrooms are up to code.

Use these restaurant floor plan considerations as your foundation to design safe and efficient kitchen operations, as well as a comfortable dining experience for your guests. Then, get creative by incorporating interior design touches from unique furnishings and cool color schemes to lighting elements and more so your restaurant can standout.

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