Guide: How To Make The Perfect Restaurant Floor Plan

Guide: How To Make The Perfect Restaurant Floor Plan
Amanda McCorquodale

By Amanda McCorquodale

We've all experienced a restaurant with a bad layout: finding the restroom is a struggle, customers and servers must lean out of the way to let others pass, and chairs are so close they might as well be bumper cars.

As a restaurateur, creating the perfect restaurant floor plan is one of your first opportunities to ensure that your operation is enjoyable to both guests and employees.

What is a restaurant floor plan?

A restaurant floor plan is essentially a map of your restaurant's interior. This includes the dining room, table layouts, restrooms, kitchen, staff areas, and all of the entrances and exits. If your restaurant has an outdoor space, it's part of the floor plan too.

Think of restaurant floor planning as a sort of choreography, or air traffic control, crucial to orchestrate all the hustle and bustle of customers coming and going while staff deliver and clear endless plates, bowls, silver-, and glassware.

Do guests have a clear path to the restroom? Is that separate from the route servers must take from the kitchen? Does kitchen noise overwhelm nearby tables?

Getting your restaurant's floor plan right the first time means you must consider your available space, your desired capacity, and the type of restaurant experience you want customers to enjoy. The ultimate goal should be to provide a clean, comfortable environment for your customers and a functional place for employees to work.

More importantly, floor plans are required by most local health and building departments before opening a new restaurant or an existing one expanded. As long as you're providing the correct agencies with a drawing of the space, use the chance to finetune how the physical layout can help execute your intended menu and tone as well as meet all the legal regulations.

Restaurant Floor Plan Basics

People in an open concept kitchen restaurant

Before we get into the core elements that should be included in your floor plan, let's look at the factors that will fuel your layout decisions:

Customers and brand

Who is your target customer? And who do you envision frequenting your restaurant? Is your establishment a quick stop after work? If so, you'll want to prioritize a clear path to the counter and ample room to wait for the order. Or is it a place to linger over weekend brunch? Make the seats comfortable. Unsure of who your target customer is? Check out this guide on restaurant market research tactics.

Is your concept located in a busy urban setting with high turnover? Make sure your mix of tables allows small parties and solo diners. Are you a date night spot? Consider the placement of light fixtures to tables for an optimal atmosphere. Set your goals and let them guide decisions that affect aesthetics and ambiance such as décor, lighting, and table set-up.

Building Codes and Regulations

The laws affecting your restaurant business can change at any time – note the new regulations on predictive scheduling in some locations. That's why you will need to familiarize yourself with federal and local building codes and health department regulations for food service operations.

In most places, you will need to submit your floor plan for approval so that appropriate departments can sign off on operational elements such as maximum occupancy, fire hazards, ventilation, food surface types, sink placement, ventilation, restroom regulations, and more.

Building codes and regulations by state

Need building codes and regulations for your specific state? Buildings Guide developed a comprehensive guide to American State building codes for every state.

Accessibility

In 1992, the Department of Justice passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to ensure that employees and customers with disabilities have the same access to basic services as other people. ADA regulations can affect everything from doors, general layout, countertop and table height, and parking.

Financials

Establish a budget for what you can pay to design a proper floor plan – and don't skimp on this step. Floor plans can affect everything from operational efficiency to whether customers return to eat at your restaurant. When laying out your dining room, you'll also need to crunch some numbers to calculate how many Sales per Square Foot or Restaurant Revenue per Seat is ideal to make sure you have enough tables to turn a profit. (Read a rundown of key performance metrics here.)

Flow and Efficiency

Central to a good restaurant floor plan is how it directs flow and foot traffic. Make sure you consider all possible routes: where deliveries come in and how they are taken to storage, how chefs move from storage to food prep, how servers pick up orders and bring them to tables, how servers access POS systems, etc. Keep an eye out for any areas where bottlenecking or crowding could occur.

Safety

If the 2020 pandemic has taught us anything about floor plans, it's that you need to build in some flexibility. Every restaurant was forced to reimagine its layouts to accommodate increased takeout orders, the distance between tables, and more. Consider creating some more space in-between tables and providing more space for staff to take breaks. You also rework exits and entrances to cut down on physical contact. Use a floor plan to identify other locations where too much contact may occur, and make adjustments accordingly.

Design and Aesthetics

The vibe and feel you're going for in your restaurant is important to recognize as you build the floor plan. If you want an open kitchen to showcase your top chef talent, that will have to account for that in your floor plan. If you're a date spot with a lot of two-tops, or you have a communal vibe with big tables, that should be reflected in your floor plan, too. The same goes for things like a stage for live music. It can be hard to change the floorplan after it's set, so make sure it reflects the feel and features you want your restaurant to have.

Restaurant Layout Components, Examples and Templates

Server working at a counter

Next, let's review the essential components to tackle while working on your restaurant layout:

Kitchen

You'll want to start by outlining the kitchen space, which many in the industry think should occupy about 40% of your total square footage. The layout should optimize quality, speed of service, and safety. You'll also want to make sure storage spaces are set up in a way that prevents cross-contamination of food.

Typically, kitchens are organized in one of three layouts: assembly line, island, and zone. The most popular is the assembly line model in which food moves through a series of parallel stations from prep, cooking, and plating to server pick-up.

Meanwhile, island-style kitchens allow for more movement and supervision between stations and are better suited for large operations. When kitchens have limited space, the zone model is used to allow access to multiple stations.

Restaurant Kitchen Floor Plan outline drawing

An example of a kitchen floor plan from CADPro

Dining Room

Indoor Dining

There's an industry rule of thumb that says your dining room should take up about 60% of your total square footage. Next, consider your local building code's maximum capacity for the space and compare that to the target number of tables you'll need to meet your bottom line.

In designing the dining room layout, consider how customer and server traffic will flow, particularly at peak times. Consider the sightlines for all the seats in the house. Will your customers have to leave their seats to find their server? Also, consider how flexible the layout is (and how nearby tables are affected) if and when you must accommodate a large party.

When placing tables, refer to this handy chart of suggested area per diner that ranges from 12 to 20 square feet depending on whether your operation is fine dining, full service or bistro service. There is also a helpful guide about how much space should be between chairs that are occupied, diagonal or parallel.

Plan to devote some time to figure out what kind of table size and configuration best serves your target clientele.

Outdoor dining

Over the past year, many restaurants have turned their eyes to the patio more than ever before. While designing your restaurant floor plan, it's important to look outside your four walls and set up your outdoor seating for success. Give it the same attention you would to the interior, and pay attention to the flow of traffic, the position of and distance between tables, as well as paths to restrooms and accessibility. Your outdoor experience is an extension of your restaurant—make sure it reflects the same care and attention.;

Restaurant Floor Plan for outdoor seating

An example of a floor plan with outdoor seating from CADPro

Entrance and Waiting Area

While your kitchen takes up 40% of your square footage, any additional space – waiting, bar, coat rack, restrooms, etc. – should be taken out of the 60% allocated to dining. Your restaurant's entrance and waiting area is the first impression you will make with guests.

Ask yourself: When customers dip in to take a look at the menu, will they stay and dine? If your operation requires a waiting area, consider ample bench seating by the front door or whether you can simply direct customers to the bar while they wait for a table.

Bar

A full-service bar that is centrally located can function as a visual focal point, an overflow for those waiting to order sit-down service and a place where servers pick up drink orders. Make sure to accommodate room for those standing waiting to order as well as for those socializing nearby. Experts point out that lines – whether at the bar, outside the restroom or by a buffet – are the tell-tale signs of bad design.

Restrooms

The trick with including an ideal space for restrooms is that access should be straightforward and intuitive but the space should feel separate from the space where customers are dining. Some will opt to place the restrooms by the kitchen to make sure of existing water and plumbing lines. Others include a staff-only bathroom that is separate from the one for guests.

Accessibility will come into play here so make sure you adhere to ADA regulations. Also, make sure to familiarize yourself with any local and county regulations that dictate how many specific locations and gender designations are required in your restaurant's restrooms. In some cases, small operations (i.e. those will less than two dozen seats) may not be required to have a restroom for customers.

In addition to the five key areas – kitchen, dining, entrance, bar, and restrooms – your restaurant floor plan should include other features such as walls and hallways, closets and storage space, windows and doors, set fixtures and appliances.

Staff Areas + Backoffice

Staff areas such as locker or break rooms, as well as your back office, deserve a spot on the floor plan, too. It's important to see where they are in relation to the rest of your restaurant, to make sure they aren't accidentally accessed by guests, or too close to where diners will be eating. Ideally, these areas should be clearly marked as well as accessible.

Payment station and POS system

Your POS and payment station is the brain of your entire restaurant. Make sure it's easily accessible from all parts of the floor. If you can, try placing it in a place as central as possible—equidistant from all areas of your restaurant. You don't want servers to have to walk long distances to input orders or process payments. By keeping it as central as possible, you can keep the flow of traffic to a minimum and make your team's lives easier.

Complete Full Service Floor Plan Example

Complete full service restaurant floor plan

An example of full-service floor plan from Raymond Hadelman Designs

How to Create a Restaurant Floor Plan

If your restaurant will be located in an existing building with its own unique set of complications, make sure to hire an architect who can address the total picture over an interior designer who will only focus on your specific space.

To find the right professional for the job, ask fellow restauranteurs in the area for references but don't stop there. Make sure you ask them about their experience using the designer or architect, how they approached challenges in the process, how long the process took, and whether they would use them again.

Once you have a couple of positive references, take the time to visit the actual restaurants to walk through their layouts. Next interview the potential architects and designers, and don't forget to ask to see a portfolio of work.

Restaurant Design Software

Or maybe you're the hands-on type and feeling ambitious? Some restaurateurs feel confident using restaurant floor planning software To create a floor plan themselves. Some examples of software are:

With restaurant design software you can choose from existing designs or start your floor plan from scratch after viewing gallery layouts for inspiration.

In most applications, you enter your structure's dimensions and then drag and drop features such as tables, half walls, and fixtures. Going DIY with floor-planning software will give you the freedom to continually tweak and modify the floor plan throughout the process.

Other Resources and Best Practices

Restaurant staff reviewing layout

Resources

If your restaurant will be located in an existing building with its own unique set of complications, make sure to hire an architect who can address the total picture over an interior designer who will only focus on your specific space.

To find the right professional for the job, ask fellow restauranteurs in the area for references but don't stop there. Make sure you ask them about their experience using the designer or architect, how they approached challenges in the process, how long the process took, and whether they would use them again.

Once you have a couple of positive references, take the time to visit the actual restaurants to walk through their layouts. Next interview the potential architects and designers, and don't forget to ask to see a portfolio of work.

Best Practices

In addition to basing your floor plan on a 40/60 split between kitchen and dining, industry experts also suggest taking the time to view the floor plan through the eyes (and tasks) of everyone in your restaurant. Ask yourself:

  • What is the approach to the kitchen like for the delivery driver?
  • Will your chef be able to see servers approaching for pick up?
  • Will servers have an easy view of all their tables and customers?
  • Do bussers have ample routes and room to service tables?

Before your grand opening, take the time to sit in each seat to identify floor plan challenges such as gusts from open doors, bathroom sounds and odors, and lack of elbow room and cramped seating. Also consider the perspective of the host or hostess, who must find the table floor plan easy to navigate to seat guests and accommodate a range of party sizes.

Most operations now use a digital floor plan tied to the operation's Point of Sale system. Despite the time you spent creating the best floor plan, issues will arise as customers and staff use the space so make sure you have a plan to making appropriate changes.

And finally, while it is essential to get your restaurant's floor plan right from the get-go, even the best layout will only get your business so far. You must also hire the right staff, offer >adequate training – and schedule crews appropriately to unleash your expertly crafted floor plan's maximum potential.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you make the final decision on a restaurant floor plan?

Once your floor plan has all of your needs met, you can get going in setting it up. As you're laying out the physical aspects, some things may change—make sure this is reflected in your floor plan. Nothing in the restaurant industry is ever truly final, but you can get pretty close.

When should you create your restaurant floor plan?

Ideally, you should create the floor plan as you're building out and opening your restaurant. This also goes for any sort of construction or remodel. You can also change up your floor plan while your restaurant is open as an adjustment to the realities of running your business.

Why do restaurants need a floor plan?

Floor plans are a map to the restaurant you want. Restaurants should use a floor plan to make sure everything is arranged in a manner that reflects productivity, comfort, safety, and the overall experience you want your team and guests to have.

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Amanda McCorquodale
Amanda McCorquodale

Amanda McCorquodale is freelance writer based in White Plains, NY.