Restaurants are all about creating a dining experience—and one that’s about so much more than just the food. Long before that first dish comes out of the kitchen, restaurateurs must think strategically about layout and flow. A successful floor plan can make all the difference when it comes to keeping guests happy and returning for more.
It can be tempting to brush off floor plan design, especially with the cooking so often seen as the main draw. But when done right, a good layout leads to customers feeling more relaxed and, hopefully, spending more money.
“The way you architecturally layout a restaurant really can affect the customer experience,” says Luke Ostrom, a partner at Rye Street Tavern in Baltimore, which opened this fall.
The spacious restaurant features everything from private dining rooms to an outdoor patio. That’s by design, as Ostrom says he and his team at New York’s NoHo Hospitality favor compartmentalizing space when thinking about floor plans in order to create diversity for guests.
“This leads to more intimate experiences throughout the restaurant,” he says. “You can play a little game of ‘look and see’ as you go around every corner.”
Catering to a wide range of customer situations is one of the most important facets of floor plan design. It’s possible for restaurants to appeal to guests who want to be in and out quickly, enjoy a leisurely meal, or linger over a couple of beers.
“Just seeing the art of cooking means that more people are going to be ordering food.” – Brian Miller, senior design director of interior architecture at Edit Lab at Streetsense.
That philosophy isn’t just for full-service spots. Take Shake Shack, where each restaurant aims to cater to a wide range of situations and create an energy reminiscent of its first location in New York’s Madison Square Park.
“We want people to be able to use us how they want to,” says Andrew McCaughan, vice president of development for the popular burger chain.
Shake Shack features indoor and outdoor seating, open kitchen views, and it has introduced games like foosball and cornhole at certain locations. McCaughan’s goal is to take the worst seat in the house and make it the best seat in the house.
“It really becomes a social community gathering place,” he says.
Rose Previte, owner of the newly-opened Maydan in Washington, D.C., echoed the importance of cultivating an energetic, communal dining experience. One way she does so is through the restaurant’s centerpiece: a wood-fire cooking station smack in the middle of the downstairs dining area.
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“The art of fire-cooking is so beautiful, I think this gives people an experience,” she says.
Those seated upstairs get a bird’s-eye view of it all. It might seem like a headache when it comes to seating and service, but Previte says she enjoys the atmosphere it creates. And she says she managed to make it work by regaining space that would have been taken up by a traditional kitchen setup.
“If you think creatively, you can still get all the seats you want,” she says.
The open flame at Maydan builds on a trend of most modern floor plans to entice diners with an open kitchen environment. The main dining room at Rye Street Tavern looks in on the chefs and even includes a small counter where guests can dine right up against the action. Even a casual concept like Shake Shack allows customers to view their order being prepared as they wait. Having this type of open kitchen is one of the best tricks restaurants use to keep customers interested and ordering.
“Just seeing the art of cooking means that more people are going to be ordering food,” says Brian Miller, senior design director of interior architecture at Edit Lab at Streetsense.
But while showcasing your back-of-house operations or designing multiple different dining rooms can certainly move the needle when it comes to boosting customer checks, both designers and restaurateurs stress there are other less obvious things that can really make a difference.
For example, focus on optimizing flow and circulation. Have enough service stations and access points for servers. Ostrom says he typically has one POS for every 25-30 seats to alleviate delays. Rye Street Tavern is also outfitted with hidden passageways and a satellite kitchen to help staff get food and plates to different areas, including up and down stairs, without blocking customers’ paths.
“The way you architecturally layout a restaurant really can affect the customer experience.” – Luke Ostrom, a partner at Rye Street Tavern
At Shake Shack, much effort is placed to make sure the overall experience is seamless, from guests being greeted at the door, to waiting in line and ordering, to getting food and sitting down.
“If there’s a fairly frictionless experience, then I think that says a lot,” McCaughan says.
Whatever level of resources your business has, placing resources on these elements of customer care are some of the top ways restaurateurs can coax customers into spending more with each visit.