Few customers probably give a second thought to a restaurant’s floor plan, but the configuration of seating, bar and kitchen areas can make a huge difference in how patrons experience the space and how efficiently staff can move through it during a service.
A well-designed restaurant floor plan can increase a restaurant’s profit margins by enabling servers to move between the front and back of house faster, serve customers more efficiently and turn tables faster.
Employees refer to a restaurant’s floor plan every shift. It’s an important tool for daily operations and it’s worth taking the time to create a great one the first time around. In this article, you’ll learn:
- What is a restaurant floor plan?
- Why do restaurants need a floor plan?
- Who designs a restaurant floor plan?
- When should you create your restaurant floor plan?
- Restaurant floor plan considerations
- Restaurant floor plan must-haves
Let’s get started!
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The point of sale for modern restaurants
Build customizable digital floor plans and menus, track sales and inventory and more with Lightspeed’s complete restaurant management platform.
What is a restaurant floor plan?
A restaurant floor plan maps out your entire restaurant’s layout. It shows the distance and relationship between rooms, tables, service and waiting areas, payment stations and more. They also show where fixtures like water heaters, doors, electrical outlets and furnaces are located.
Why do restaurants need a floor plan?
In some locations, a floor plan may be required to secure necessary approvals before opening your restaurant.
A floor plan is a map. Once your restaurant is in business, the floor plan helps staff orient themselves and understand the restaurant space.
Who designs a restaurant floor plan?
Hiring a professional architect and interior designer with restaurant industry experience is often well worth the investment. Your restaurant floor plan needs to meet building codes and regulations, professionals who already know the rules are less likely to make a costly mistake.
An architect is trained to make sure a restaurant is structurally sound and up to code. An interior designer is trained to design a beautiful, functional space that respects applicable regulations.
Together, they can help bring your vision to life. Both architects and interior designers have the following skills:
- A strong understanding of space planning (depending on their level of experience.)
- Up-to-date knowledge of your state or province’s building codes and regulations.
- Experience using professional-grade design software.
- Problem-solving and the foresight to spot and fix red flags before they become a bigger problem.
- Established connections with table, seating, storage, counter space and lighting manufacturers.
- A comprehensive understanding of materials, furnishings and finishes.
- Inherent creativity and knowledge gained through experience that can help you turn an idea into a reality.
We suggest investing in professional help. If you’re looking to do it yourself, here are some restaurant floor plan software programs:
When should you create your restaurant floor plan?
A floor plan needs a commercial space.Floor plans are usually designed when you’re shopping for a commercial restaurant space. Once your space is secured, either you or the architect you hire can start creating the restaurant’s floor plan.
Restaurant floor plan considerations
Let’s take a look at the six essential factors you need to consider in your restaurant layout decisions:
- Building codes
- Square footage per customer
1. Building codes and regulations
An architect or interior designer with expertise in floor plans can help ensure that yours meets local building codes.
Some of these requirements may not be intuitive to a layperson. For instance, “any foodservice facility in San Francisco has to have a three-compartment sink, a hand-washing sink and drains associated with each of them,” says Dane Bunton, Co-Founder of Studio BANAA, a San Francisco-based architecture firm. “If you have an ice maker, you’ll have to have a floor drain next to it,” he adds.
Restaurant building codes may also require that all surfaces, including ceilings, are washable. “You can’t have open insulation over areas where food is served,” says Michael Antenora, Founder and Principal at Austin-based Antenora Architects LLP. He notes that “There are a lot of things in building and mechanical codes that need to factor into your restaurant’s design.”
Depending on your jurisdiction, other legal requirements may also come into play. In Quebec, the Charter of the French Language applies to all businesses in the province–no matter their size. Its rules come to bear upon everything from signage and menus to your restaurant’s name. Éducaloi has more information.
Making sure that workspaces and dining areas are accessible to those with mobility issues is crucial. In 1992, the Department of Justice passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which ensures that all employees and customers benefit from the same level of accessibility. In Canada, the Accessible Canada Act aims to find, remove and prevent barriers throughout the country by 2040.
“Every type of seating around that you provide for ambulatory people has to provide an equivalent experience to those with more limited mobility,” Antenora says. “A good example of that is at the bar counter. Most bars are meant to be where a person can comfortably stand or sit on a high stool. You have to provide a section of the bar that is set up to meet those accessibility guidelines.”
Nastaran Mousavi, Bunton’s Co-Founder at Studio Bana, mentions a few more factors to consider. “All restrooms and work areas also need to be accessible. Essentially, every area of your establishment should be readily accessible for your customers and employees.”
Restaurant build-outs can be expensive, so budgetary concerns may limit how drastically you can alter the space. On average, this is how much it costs to open a restaurant according to a recent survey from Restaurant Owner:
- Low total restaurant startup cost: $175,000
- Median total restaurant startup cost: $375,000
- High total restaurant startup cost: $750,000
“Depending on the budget, you might consider limiting the number of walls that we knock out and being efficient in the way that we lay out the plumbing fixtures,” Mousavi says.
Arranging a layout around existing plumbing fixtures can save money. However, it also limits your layout’s possibilities.
Permitting requirements can also impact budgets. “In San Francisco, it can take up to six months to go through the planning department to get a change of use,” Bunton says. Enlisting the help of an architect during site selection before leasing a commercial restaurant space can help minimize any surprises.
Has the waitstaff almost bumped into you for the duration of your meal? Have you stood next to the cash register, blocking the line of people waiting for their seat, as you waited for your takeout order? Then you already know: flow is key.
Think about the journey that a plate will make from the kitchen to a table. Who will carry the plate? Or does the order only have to travel to a counter, where it will get picked up? How will different people circulate throughout the space?
It’s best to keep it simple. “If you can minimize the movement it takes to move plates back and forth from the service area to the kitchen, that’s always better,” says Antenora. Design to avoid any bottlenecks. Also, assure that your dining space is flexible, accessible and can accommodate large parties.
With big non-negotiable requirements nailed down, it’s time to decorate. “Once you determine your service model, then we start talking about the experience and style of interior decor,” Antenora says. “What is the vibe of the space? Something that’s homier? Or funky?” Your restaurant’s service model, menu and aesthetic need to make sense.
“When we start planning a restaurant or a bar or a cafe, we have extensive conversations with our clients to understand their brand, their identity and what kind of image and experience they want their restaurant space to communicate,” Mousavi says. “What do they want their customers to do in their space and how do they want them to engage in their space? These are conversations we need to have concrete answers for before we start planning an establishment’s interior design.”
Mousavi recommends making at least part of the service area visible from the outside. “People go where people are,” she explains. “If you drive by a restaurant and see that there aren’t that many people there, that’s not appealing, whereas if it’s packed, you interpret that as a trust signal and automatically assume the place is worth trying.”
That’s exactly what Montreal-based vegan restaurant Tendresse did. Their service area and bar are customer-facing and passers-by can easily look inside, check out the vibe, the clientele and food.
6. Square footage per customer
Restaurant table sizes vary depending on the style of service and the owners’ preferences. “The size of the table is often selected for how that particular chef wants to present the food on the table,” Antenora says.
The square footage you allocate to each seated guest also depends on the type of restaurant you’re planning to open.
How much square footage you allocate to each seated guest depends on your restaurant’s service type. In general, account for the following:
- Fine dining: 18 to 20 square feet per customer
- Full-service dining: 12 to 15 square feet per customer
- Counter service: 18 to 20 square feet per customer
- Fast food dining: 11 to 14 square feet per person
The restaurant industry has undergone tremendous change over the past few years. One of the biggest emerging trends is a turn towards sustainable practices. These can reduce costs and lower your business’s carbon footprint.
Sustainability can alter the way you run your restaurant. It can also change the way you design your floor plan.
Adopting a sustainable approach can include a number of practices. In terms of your restaurant’s floor plan, sustainability can mean working with the space rather than transforming it completely, reusing furniture or equipment whenever possible and choosing sustainably-sourced materials. Will you encourage your staff to run or bike to work? If so, think about including a shower to allow them to get ready for their shift onsite.
Be sure to see whether you’re eligible for energy efficiency grants. They could help offset some of the costs associated with making your restaurant a little bit greener.
Restaurant floor plan must-haves
Evidently, your restaurant floor plan must include the following sections:
- Dining area
- Payment station and POS system
- Entrance and waiting area
A casual burger joint won’t have the same layout as a sushi restaurant–just like a cozy cafe downtown won’t have as many seating options as a steakhouse in the suburbs. Kitchen layouts vary according to what’s on the menu and how many seats are in the space. Open kitchens—where watching the chef(s) prepare food can become a form of entertainment—have become more popular in recent years. “That forces the restaurateur to keep that kitchen very clean,” Antenora points out.
Victor Cardamone trained to become a chef at the Culinary Institute of America. He now works as the President and CEO of New Jersey-based Mise Designs, which specializes in kitchen layouts. Cardamone recommends that kitchen planning happens before creating an overall floor plan for the restaurant. “If you were designing a racecar, would you design the engine first or would you pick the tires first?” he says. “Without the engine, the tires are meaningless. The engine is going to drive the entire concept.”
Cardamone designs commercial kitchen layouts based on the menu, service type and the cooking techniques that the chef favors. “A steakhouse would have a much larger grill area or a charcoal operation,” he says. For restaurants that overhaul their menus each season, Cardamone prioritizes flexibility. “We try to put in a variety of pieces of equipment that give the chef the flexibility to adapt and adjust their menu items each season.”
Consider where your kitchen staff receives orders from the point of sale system to the kitchen display system (KDS). Ideally, the KDS is placed in an area that’s easy for kitchen staff to access and minimizes kitchen foot traffic—the window is a great spot (that’s restaurant slang for the warming area between the kitchen and the serving station. It’s where cooks place dishes that are ready to go to the table.)
2. Dining area
Typically, a restaurant’s dining area, bar, restrooms and waiting area should take up about 60% of the total square footage and the remaining 40% should be reserved for the kitchen, storage and food prep space.
Your local building code contribute to this–what’s the maximum number of people you’re allowed to have in the building at once?
Seating layout can impact the kind of experience a customer has, whether the space feels intimate and sedate or animated and lively, according to Antenora. “Each of these may have different table sizes and heights, as well as how those tables are placed,” he says. “Further, one may have more booths or banquette seating.” The use of hard or soft materials in the dining area impacts the space’s acoustics and the overall vibe, he adds.
Take, for example, The Donut Experiment’s floor plan, which Mise Designs developed. Donuts are cooked to order and guests can customize their donut with toppings in the designated area. Moreover, The Donut Experiment opted to have their assembly area fully on display to its customers.
3. Payment station and POS system
Your point of sale (POS) system is your restaurant’s heartbeat. It’s what servers use to place orders and fire them to the kitchen, take payments, check-in reservations and more. A restaurant has limited space in its dining area. A handheld point of sale system enables front of house staff to serve guests from check-in to checkout from a tablet. Untethered from a single space, the POS suddenly frees up more valuable square footage.
Tableside ordering prevents the unnecessary foot traffic created by servers running back and forth from table to payment station. Crucially, it also saves precious dining space.
4. Entrance and waiting area
Be careful not to overlook your restaurant’s entrance and waiting area. These spaces can cement a first impression. They set the tone and, as Antenora points out, their configuration can have unexpected implications.
“Many restaurants are designed specifically to encourage a patron to have a drink at the bar or waiting area while they wait for their table,” Antenora says. “The size of the waiting area can vary widely regardless of whether or not a restaurant takes reservations, and it is largely driven by how much space the restaurateur wants to dedicate to it,” she adds.
In the example of Korus, A fine-dining restaurant, they opted for a waiting area that was separate from the dining area, equipped with its own seating area.
A restaurant’s kitchen should take up 40% of total square footage. The dining area, bar, restrooms, entrance and waiting area should be taken out of the 60% of space allocated to dining. If space is too limited to fit seating in your entrance, consider directing guests to wait for their table at the bar.
Not all restaurants have a bar, but when they do, the bar can often become a main attraction.
“They’re a focal point for customers and create a sense of direction and identity of the place,” Mousavi says. “So we usually try to come up with a unique design idea for the bar piece, and then lay out the rest of the space around it.”
Case in point is Amsterdam’s brasserie Maris Piper. Their beautifully decorated space features an open bar and kitchen, making their bartenders and chefs a focal part of the dining experience.
We need them, but we don’t need to be reminded of their presence. Aim to place restrooms away from the dining area.
Antenora notes that “A good restaurant design is going to have a doorway restroom foyer you go into.” Clustering the restroom and kitchen plumbing together in the same area can reduce the cost of construction.
That’s precisely what Cardamone did when designing Bourbon Coffee Shop’s floor plan. The restroom and kitchen area are near one another. They both use the same plumbing.
It’s important to adhere to your jurisdiction’s accessibility regulations. Additionally, be sure to familiarize yourself with your local regulations for how many restrooms and gender designations your restaurant needs. In certain instances, small-scale restaurants (those with fewer than 24 seats) might not need to have a restroom for their guests.
Design the floor plan that’s right for your restaurant
While certain elements of your restaurant floor plan may change over time—you might decide to add patio seating for warmer months–the basic foundations you plan out will probably remain.
Just remember: your goal is to create a restaurant floor plan that helps kitchen staff work effectively, empowers service staff to provide top-notch service to guests and delights customers.
Restaurant floor planning takes time. Most importantly, it means weighing all the options to balance efficiency and aesthetics while sticking to a budget.
Take the time to partner with professionals, build a strong foundation and set your establishment up for long-term success.
Are you ready? Talk to one of our experts to see how Lightspeed can help your restaurant’s journey, from conception to expansion.
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