Restaurants are more than just eating factories. They're a place for socialization, comfort and memories. Delivering a good experience to your customers -- safely and profitably -- begins long before you design the menu. First you have to design the restaurant itself. There's a lot to consider when it comes to creating a floor plan. This can be daunting, but fortunately you're not on your own. The industry has plenty of established guidelines and principles for you to study, thanks to the lessons learned by the restaurants that came before yours.
For full-service restaurants and cafes with a general menu, the New York food service publication "Total Food Service" recommends as a starting point that you devote roughly 60 percent of your restaurant's floor area to dining, with everything else -- the kitchen, bathrooms and storage -- taking up the remaining 40 percent. Additionally, make sure that your HVAC vents do not point directly on any table, and use space and air flows to minimize drafts from outside. If you plan to dim your main lighting, use supplemental lights to brighten tables so that customers can see and appreciate their food.
How Much Space You Need
Within your dining space, plan on roughly 15 square feet per customer, including foot traffic corridors, busing and pickup stations, the foyer and the cashier's area. For fine dining and counter service restaurants, you can take that number as high as 20 square feet per customer. For fast food and buffet-style dining, adjust the numbers downward to between 10 and 15 square feet per customer. Budget five square feet of kitchen space for each seat in the restaurant.
Dining Room Layout
Your dining room floor plan should emphasize customer comfort. Space is one of the most important factors. Patrons shouldn't have to squeeze into their seats or brush up against each other to get between the entry, their table and the restrooms. They also like to have some distance from other parties. The National Restaurant Association says that customers ideally like a full yard of space between themselves and the next table. In close quarters like booths, banquettes or small tables with closely-spaced chairs, customers like at least a foot of elbow room so that they don't clash with other diners in their own party. At the same time, make sure all your tables stay within 60 feet of a pickup station. This helps to keep foods at their proper temperature, reduce walking times for wait staff and cut down on foot traffic.
Privacy and Comfort
Customers don't like to be the center of attention and instead prefer to have a "view" of the restaurant, meaning that most tables should be anchored on at least one side to either a wall or a freestanding partition -- the latter of which also allows you to move tables closer together to save space. Alcoves and nooks help too, and have the added benefit of not making people feel like they're all alone in a giant cafeteria when there aren't many other diners.
Table and Seating Dimensions
As part of the dining room layout, you must account for the size and shape of your seating. Table and seating dimensions play into the perception of space, and affect diners' comfort. Total Food Service recommends table heights of 29 to 30 inches and seat heights of 17 to 18 inches, and the National Restaurant Association recommends that booth backs be about 52 inches from the ground so that customers are not completely cut off from their surroundings.
For the bathrooms, use a door-free configuration, or else use doors that open outward so that customers exiting the bathroom won't have to touch the handle to pull the door open after washing their hands. Give some thought to sink and counter design to minimize puddling and the scattering of soap. In larger bathrooms, don't position dryers and towel dispensers where they'll get in the way of other patrons using the sinks.
Kitchen Design Considerations
Functionality and efficiency should govern the layout of your kitchen. The Food Service Warehouse recommends that you keep cooking areas and refrigeration areas as far apart as practical, with fume hoods optimally positioned over cooking surfaces. There needs to be space for employees to maneuver safely around one another, with an eye toward ergonomics that cut down on repetitive, inefficient tasks for the kitchen staff. In addition, comply with all relevant health codes, such as the placement of floor drains and electrical outlets.
Kitchen Layout Patterns
In arranging your counters and equipment, there are four common patterns you can follow. First is an assembly line configuration, suitable for restaurants that prepare a small number of foods in large quantities, like sandwich shops. Second is a zone-based configuration that splits the kitchen into different zones such as raw meat preparation, cooked cold foods preparation, cooking and dish-washing. This setup enables multiple independent activities to be underway in the kitchen at the same time. Third is an island configuration, with cooking areas in the middle and everything else on the perimeter, or vice-versa. Lastly is an ergonomic configuration geared toward maximal employee efficiency, useful in high-volume restaurants.
Josh Fredman is a freelance pen-for-hire and Web developer living in Seattle. He attended the University of Washington, studying engineering, and worked in logistics, health care and newspapers before deciding to go to work for himself.