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7 Layout & Design Tips For Small Restaurant Spaces

April 14, 2022  |  Foodservice Design

Small restaurant design layout tips

Small spaces can pose big challenges for restaurants. Not only do you have to fit your creative vision into a limited area, but you also have to make sure it's efficient and as safe as possible for guests and employees. There's already a lot to consider when it comes to restaurant space design, but here are seven tips specifically for small eateries:

1. Scale your furniture and decor appropriately.

Have you ever heard the saying, "measure twice, cut once?" Even though you're probably not making your tables, booths, and seating yourself, it still applies to restaurant space design. If your space is small, your furnishings should be sized to fit it. Consider using armless chairs, especially for entryway seating. You can also choose translucent furniture that has less visual weight to make your dining or entry areas feel bigger.

Ideally, your small space will have a lot of windows. Even if it doesn't, decorating with plenty of mirrors can help bounce light around the room and make the space feel more expansive. If you're adding shelving or hanging curtains, place them as close to the ceiling as possible. This will draw viewers' eyes upward, creating the illusion of more vertical space. Also, be careful where you hang artwork -- too high, and it'll be awkward to look at. Too low, and it can become visual clutter. Artwork should hang at eye level for whoever is going to be looking at it. For entryways, where people are generally standing, artwork should be hung roughly 60-65" from the floor. For dining rooms, where people are seated, this means hanging art so it can be enjoyed from a lower viewing angle.

2. Forget the rules for painting small rooms.

It used to be conventional wisdom that light colors make rooms look bigger, but this isn't always true. White or very light colors can make a small space look boxy and nondescript, without actually creating the perception of more room. The same is true of very bright colors, which can be visually overwhelming. Believe it or not, dark colors are sometimes the best choice -- they can create a cozy, moody atmosphere, and dark shades can make walls and ceilings appear to recede further into the distance.

If you do embrace a bright white color scheme, echo it in your other furnishings and use artwork and live plants to inject some variety.

3. If you have a bar, make it a focal point.

Without a lot of room to work with, you might not have the luxury of designating your bar as a space distinct from your dining area. Instead, make it a showpiece. Add hanging fixtures to create a glow that draws the eye, choose finishes and hardware that are both decorative and functional, and create attractive displays of bottles and glassware. Layout your tables and walkways so there's an unobstructed path, just be sure to arrange tables so there's 6' of space between them and the bar.

4. Don't let anything go to waste.

Small restaurants shouldn't have any "dead zones." These are areas that don't really serve a purpose, and often just end up either looking empty and unfinished, or awkwardly overstuffed with furnishings. This can usually be avoided by carefully planning your layout and choosing furniture of the right scale.

On a similar note, it's important to try to make areas multi-task whenever possible. One challenge in small restaurant space design is finding room for everything. Try to make your utilitarian elements pull double-duty as decor to help save space and create a cohesive aesthetic throughout your entire restaurant.

5. Turn preparation into performance.

A good layout is vital for any restaurant, but this is doubly true for small ones. There are likely to be times when you simply don't have enough room to seat everyone, no matter how many tables and chairs you try to fit in. You can experiment with counter-side seating or small tasting tables if your kitchen's layout permits, which will allow guests to enjoy the experience of seeing the artistry that goes into your dishes.

6. Pay attention to your entryway.

During peak times, you're likely to have people waiting at your entrance to get a table. This can be really challenging for restaurants that don't have a lot of room to devote to a large waiting area. You can either eliminate it entirely and rely on text messages or devices to alert people when their tables are ready, or try to make your entry as inviting and efficient as possible. Treat the exterior of your restaurant as an extension of your entry, and place some comfortable benches for additional seating. Inside, avoid using large couches that can overwhelm the space. Opt for sleeker, modern designs instead.

7. Measure your walkways carefully.

Ideally, a walkway that doesn't get much traffic should be wide enough for two people to stand shoulder-to-shoulder. Higher traffic areas should be wider. This will help avoid collisions or falls by staff and guests, but it can also impact the perception of your space. Narrow walkways aren't only more dangerous, they can make your seating area appear more cluttered and claustrophobic. Wider, unobstructed walkways also allow light to reach further, creating a brighter, airier atmosphere.

If you aren't a design expert, restaurant space design is already tough. For small spaces, it can be even more challenging. This situation can benefit from the eye of a professional designer. ChefVue allows you to work with designers and professional chefs in real-time, saving you time and money and ensuring that you get a restaurant that you, your guests, and your staff will love.

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