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Designing Your Restaurant Layout: 5 Tips

Opening a new restaurant is an exciting, creative venture. You have to make many decisions, from your menu to your staff picks. Your layout also draws  — and retains — your customer base. Moreover, your scheme should encompass the vibe you want your location to project. 

Here are five tips for designing your restaurant layout. 

Start With the Exterior 

Where are you located, and what kind of clientele do you hope to attract? Doing so begins with your exterior design. You’ve probably seen countless renovation shows that start with the host arriving at their destination, scratching their heads and asking in shocked awe, “What is this?” 

Begin with your signage. It’s one of your biggest draws — nearly everyone who walks by will take notice and you never get a second chance to make a winning first impression. You may need several. For example, are you near a freeway? Are you eligible to make it on one of the big blue highway signs and how much does it cost where you live? What other ways can you increase your roadside visibility to drive vehicular traffic? 

The pandemic hasn’t ended, although governments have eased restrictions in the wake of vaccines. However, folks with immunocompromised conditions may still hesitate to dine indoors for safety reasons. Jabs don’t offer complete protection — are you willing to risk losing potential business from folks who might otherwise frequent you without the risk? 

If not, consider an outdoor seating arrangement to complement your indoor setup. You don’t only benefit the COVID-19 hesitancy crew — use it to grow profits. When passersby see happy diners savoring divinely-scented meals as they stroll, they’ll want to see what all the fuss is about, stopping in to sample your wares on their next outing. 

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Discover Your Niche

What’s your vibe, man? This question isn’t only for hippies, as lighthearted as it sounds. Are you going for a bustling breakfast-and-lunch joint catering to the corporate crowd returning to the office, a sedate and intimate late-night eatery for lovers or a relaxed, kickback coffeehouse where folks chill, communicate and compute for hours? 

Here, too, consider your location in the equation. Who can forget the disastrous episode of “Bar Rescue” where the “pirates” decided to indulge their whimsy despite their otherwise prime location for serving more serious corporate clientele? 

Contemplate what clients you hope to attract. A salon-style coffee shop should feature tons of cozy loveseats and rocking chairs among the computer/dining tables where folks can enjoy casual chats. A more intimate date-night establishment might feature private, tucked-in booths, a la “The Melting Pot.” A happy hour bar should have generous rail space for folks to kick up their boots and wash the trail dust off their tongues. 

Form, Function or Both?

Some intimate Italian restaurants seem hopelessly cluttered with grapevines and various instruments everywhere — yet they capture the cozy country cottage look. Other establishments stick to sleek minimalism. Imagine old-school diners with shiny chrome surfaces, practical stools and back-to-basics booths. 

How can you marry form and function? You want to maximize your seating per local fire and safety regulations without making your customers feel like sardines. Plus, even those uninhibited dining indoors might appreciate social distancing. 

While choosing your tables and chairs, consider the groups you’ll serve. Do you plan to host banquets? You’ll need longer tables or smaller ones that connect using leaves. Conversely, a breakfast cafe might get by with little more than tiny French-style tables that seat two to four. 

Should you have an open kitchen? It makes many customers feel more comfortable when they can see the area where your staff prepares their food. It’s not a necessity, but if knocking down a wall will give those with food allergies the peace of mind that your team isn’t substituting canola oil for olive, make like chef Robert Irvine with a sledgehammer and knock it down, creating a view. 

Cater to All Customers 

People are getting larger on average, especially in the United States. The menu discussion is a topic for another day, but your chairs should support their weight. Some unfortunate diners have suffered terrible embarrassment when they don’t — and you can rest assured those folks won’t return to the establishment where it happened. 

Furthermore, the world is more diverse than ever. Snarky signage might seem cute to you, even attract some clientele — but it can drive others away. Think carefully before hanging wall decor with messages that some might deem non-inclusive and please, stay away from the “nobody wants to work” messaging. Such signs are incredibly pessimistic and signal that you don’t value your staff enough to pay a living wage, a move that will prompt caring customers to take their business elsewhere. 

Emphasize Green Features 

Much like snarky messaging can drive customers away, projecting a caring image of stewardship can draw them like flies. Green your restaurant and use your measures as free marketing to attract folks concerned about climate change, nearly everyone these days. 

For example, source your food locally, slashing emissions. Better yet, do a farm-to-table concept and grow organic goods onsite — a rooftop garden, perhaps? If you’re a seafood joint with plenty of space, can you farm some fish at your location, maybe adding a pond as a water feature? 

Designing Your Restaurant’s Layout

Your restaurant layout helps determine how many customers you attract — and whether they keep coming back for more. What should you consider as you put your creative genius to the test? 

Follow the tips above for designing your restaurant’s layout. The right theme helps you build an establishment that lingers as the go-to place in your customers’ minds. 

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