According to the National Restaurant Association, the restaurant industry’s projected sales in 2020 is $899 billion. There’s money to be made, even in a year when so many restaurant owners have met extraordinary challenges when it comes to running their business.
If you want to make money this year, and in the following years, you need to think about restaurant seating. By optimizing your space and seating customers in a way that makes them happy, you can make even more money than you have in the past.
However, it can be confusing to know what works best. Do you want to squeeze more people in, or will that drive more customers away over time? How do you choose the right types of seats for your customers?
There are many factors to consider, and it can be overwhelming. That’s why we’ve put together this guide.
By providing you with the information you need to seat your customers so that your restaurant is successful, you can focus on what really matters, such as selecting the right dishes and spreading the word about your restaurant. Read on to learn more.
- What Looks Good?
When you’re deciding on the layout of seating in your restaurant, you need to think about what looks good to you and your customers. Take a step back, and look at your space.
What vibe do you want your restaurant to have? When customers walk in, do you want them to think they’re stepping into a fancy, formal restaurant or a fun, family-friendly restaurant?
If you run a seafood restaurant, do you want a nautical vibe? If it’s more of a pub-style place, maybe you should consider having a fireplace, in which case you might want a few tables around it, instead of a bar area nearby.
You’ll also want to think about the function of the space. If your customers are coming in for a slow-cooked meal, then you’ll want dining tables and comfortable chairs.
If you’re in an area where people do lots of shopping, a bar with bar chairs might be a better idea.
Once you’ve decided on the look of your restaurant and how it will function, you’ll know where you’re more likely to place tables and seats, whether you need a bar area, and whether you need a patio.
You’ll also have a better idea of what seats and tables will go where.
- What’s Your Space Like?
Once you have an idea of what your space will look like and how seats and tables will be used by your customers, you’ll want to think about the space itself. For example, for restaurants with outdoor seating, you might consider having a different set-up outside than inside.
The spacing between tables might differ as well. This is also the case for restaurants with patio seating. Generally speaking, customers are more okay with squeezing closer together at picnic tables outside if they’re getting fresh air along with their meal.
For restaurants with walk-in seating, you’ll want a large number of tables available, possibly with restaurant booth seating or bench seating so that many people can sit inside at the same time.
If you have smaller groups who come in with reservations, it’s worth putting tables in intimate corners or putting partitions between tables. As you can see, different types of restaurant seating have an impact on who sits where.
Once you have an idea of what the layout of your space is like in terms of seating, you can get into the more logistical aspects of figuring out how to seat your customers so they’re happier with your service and return to your restaurant.
- Calculate How Much Room You Need
Now that you know what you want your space to look like and how the space will be filled in a general sense, it’s time to calculate how much room you need. This way, you won’t end up with a restaurant that’s too full—or that’s so empty diners won’t want to go in.
There’s no math equation that can help you figure out exactly how many seats and tables should go in your space to avoid either of these problems, but there are a few strategies you can use to get a close estimate. Generally speaking, you want:
- At most 18 square feet per person
- At least 10 square feet per person
So, measure how many square feet your restaurant is. Based on that number, aim for reservations that provide each person with 10 to 18 square feet to move around in. Then, you can adjust as needed depending on how full or empty your space feels once customers are in it.
- Ask Your Customers About Restaurant Seating
Many businesses don’t realize that one of their best resources is their customers. In addition to helping you run your restaurant better, asking your customers about their preferences makes them feel listened to.
At the end of each meal, have customers fill out a survey on what they thought of the restaurant.
Remember to ask them about whether they felt the restaurant was crowded or empty, if they were happy with the timing of table service, and if they felt they had to wait long for a table.
To encourage customers to fill this out, offer them the chance to win a free meal if they do.
You can also use online booking software to get a good idea of what your customers’ preferences are.
Whether their preferences include sitting outside or inside, at the bar or in a more private area, by a window or in a comfy booth seat, you can learn all this and apply it to your space.
Another great way to get more information from your customers is by having them fill out an online survey, which you can send to them if they’re signed up for your online newsletter.
- Space Tables Correctly
Another logistical consideration to make is spacing tables correctly. If they’re too close to each other, then customers won’t feel like they’re getting the space they deserve and might be annoyed about the noise of other people’s voices nearby.
Even though there might be enough room for more tables, you want to think about this human element. Therefore, you’ll want to use the general rule of leaving at least 24 inches between corners of tables.
- Think About Room Size
When you’re running a restaurant, you only want to use around 60-70% of the space for dining. The rest should be used for other elements of your restaurant, such as bathrooms, storage, and the kitchen.
In terms of seat placement within the room, you’ll want to reserve 20 to 25 square feet for each seat.
This will make room for not only customers where they’re seated, but also for any movement of serves or of people walking to the bathroom or through the front door.
- Remember the Bar Area
You’ll also want to consider the bar area. Can you use it as a place for people to wait while they wait for a table to be free? This will have a positive impact on your customer service since people enjoying drinks and bar food will feel less impatient.
You can also improve sales if you have a bar area. Once people have been drinking, they might be more open to getting an appetizer or extra sides at their meal, which means you’ll make a bit more money.
- Think About Table Status
Table status is related to how often people sit at tables, how many, and how long it usually takes them to enjoy their meal. By tracking these numbers, you can have a better idea about turnover—which will help you be more accurate with reservations or telling walk-in customers how long their wait for a table is.
This improves the customer experience, which is key to customers returning to your restaurant. It’s also a more positive experience for your waitstaff, which means they’ll be more patient and kind to customers—which also guarantees customer loyalty.
In addition to tracking table status while customers are at your restaurant, using an online reservation system will give you exact numbers on reservation sizes and times.
It also makes it easier for you to ask customers for preferences on where they sit, which guarantees customer satisfaction.
You’ll also be able to make needed changes; for example, if many diners want to sit by the window, you might want to put more tables there in the future.
- Remember Customer Names
In addition to providing customers with a great meal, providing them with great service guarantees that they’ll return to your restaurant. One of the best ways to do this is by having your maitre d’ and waiters remember your customers’ names.
When seating customers, have them note down the name of the customer and refer to them regularly during the meal. This will ensure that your staff remembers your customers’ names.
If they remember where the customer prefers to sit—or if they’re a regular who has a preferred seat—this is even better. Ensure that the regular is seated in the same seat every time, if possible.
Additionally, if you’re using an online reservation, you can have all this information saved online, which makes it easier to access the information. Save any exchanges you have on social media about customer names and preferences, too.
- Use Room Dividers
Room dividers are a great way to provide intimacy in a large space. Especially if your restaurant is used for parties of many different sizes, this will make it easier to manage those sizes instead of having to change around seating arrangements constantly.
- Think About Seating Styles
The different types of seating styles you have in your restaurant will have an impact on what offerings you have on your menu, as well as the turnover rate with tables. So you’ll want to think carefully about seating styles.
Traditional tables which seat two to six people, for example, mean that you’re going to have faster turnover with your clients. They also offer a more intimate and luxurious dining experience, so if you have seats like this, you can charge quite a lot for drinks and entrées.
If this is your set-up, then do what you can to avoid one person sitting alone at a table, since you’ll lose money this way. They might stay a long time because of the elegant atmosphere—but they won’t order enough to make their time worth your while.
Customers love booths, so for many restaurants, it’s a good idea to have booth seating. It provides a sense of intimacy, even in the most crowded restaurants. However, because booths are up against the wall, not all your tables can be booths.
If you want to use booths in your restaurant, keep in mind that—just like with traditional tables—you’ll want to avoid encouraging one-person reservations.
Finally, you might want to consider banquette tables. These tables, where there’s a bench along a window or wall with high chairs or bar stools customers can sit on, will encourage customers to stay longer at your restaurant.
This will mean you’ll want to price your drinks, sides, coffees, and desserts at higher prices.
If you’re currently installing seating, you might consider looking at Richardson Furniture, a company that specializes in high-quality furniture.
If you need more tips on running your restaurant business or restaurant seating, we’ve got the information you need. We’re experts on restaurants and all you need to know to run yours successfully.
Check out our blog to learn more.