Starting up a restaurant is not for cowards. The industry's failure rate is high, and even successful restaurants usually call for an all-consuming effort from the proprietors and chef. Careful preliminary planning can be crucial to a restaurant's ongoing success. One of the most fundamental decisions is how large to make the kitchen and dining rooms. The balance between production and seating capacity is a difficult one to determine.

The Problem

A restaurant's dining room is its revenue generator, and an adequate seating area is crucial to the business plan. The restaurant must be able to seat enough diners to pay its bills, based on the projected average check. The area should also provide room for a service stand for the servers to speed resetting and leave room for a bar and a coat check area if those are appropriate to the restaurant's format. The kitchen needs enough space and equipment to produce the food for the same projected number of diners.

Some Standard Ratios

The most common standard ratio offered for dining room to kitchen space is 60 to 40, favoring the dining room. This is highly variable, and depends largely on the type of restaurant. For example, consulting firm The Evans Group recommends a 3 to 1 split, with the smaller portion going to kitchen use. The level of food and service also plays a role, with finer food taking two to three times the kitchen space required for banquet service. Better restaurants also require more space per diner, and therefore higher margins. Fast-service or banquet service establishments can have smaller kitchens and larger dining rooms, making their profit from higher sales volumes. These kitchens can occupy as little as 25 percent of the total floor space, for a 4 to 1 dining area to kitchen ratio.

Regulatory and Space Constraints

Design decisions are further complicated by regulatory and space constraints. Jurisdictions commonly mandate details such as the quantity of storage space and the number and placement of restrooms. The kitchen's ventilation system must meet local construction codes, which can limit its location within the building. Restaurants are often situated in older or historic buildings, which contain limitations such as odd angles or small or strangely shaped rooms. These constraints often force restaurateurs to create several small dining rooms rather than one large one, or to separate food storage from the working section of the kitchen. An imaginative restaurateur or designer can sometimes turn these limitations into treasured and striking design elements.

Harnessing the Variables

Although there are no hard-and-fast ratios to apply, there are some basic principles that can aid your decision-making. For example, if the potential number of seats and your projected average check won't let you pay your bills, you need to walk away or negotiate a better lease. If you aren't sure about your pricing or food, seek out mentors and consultants in the local business and restaurant community. Check with your suppliers as another potential source of information about what works in your area and what doesn't. Excellent resources include the National Restaurant Association, the hospitality school at Cornell University, and food-industry magazines and books.