How to Make the Most of a Small Restaurant Dining Room

A Single Rose Sits In A Small Vase On A Restaurant Table; Northumberland England
••• John Short / Getty Images

I am getting ready to open a new restaurant. I have the best location, in a busy downtown area with lots of foot traffic. The problem is the space I am leasing is really small. I mean really small. My restaurant dining room only has enough space for about 10 tables, so 40 seats total at any given time. How do I make the most of the space I have? Let's begin:

How to Work With a Small Dining Room  

I personally prefer a smaller dining room to a larger one (which makes me think of a cafeteria), however, as a restaurant owner, I was always trying to maximize space by fitting in as many people as possible without sacrificing comfort, customer service or ambiance. It may take some finagling, but I’m sure you can decide on a good dining room floor plan that is accommodating to customers and staff.

Very small dining rooms, while offering instant coziness, can be somewhat of a puzzle when it comes to fitting in all the necessary pieces. The dining room, no matter type of concept you are planning, is the heart of your restaurant. A typical restaurant dining room design includes seating, wait stations, and storage.

Select the Right Seating

For very small spaces, like yours, it may be tempting to cram more seats than is comfortable into your dining room. It results in port service, making it hard for staff to maneuver between tables and hard for customers to enjoy their meal. The rule of thumb with setting up restaurant tables is that each table should be between 24 and 30 inches apart. You may want to consider restaurants booths, as a space saving option in your dining room. Just like restaurant chairs, booths come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and color. They can be customized to fit any restaurant design.

Flexibility is key to small dining rooms. Allowing tables to be moved together for larger parties or broken apart for smaller parties are much more accommodating. No matter what your table set up, make sure that there is a clear path in and out of the dining room, for staff and customers.

Try to keep any prep or hostess stations out of the dining room. Not only will it take up precious space, but it also makes the dining room look cluttered and doesn’t offer a good view for customers.

Plan Reservations Accordingly

Staggering restaurant reservations can also help you turn tables more efficiently. Many fine dining restaurants only set at certain times. For example, they might have a five o’clock seating, a seven o’clock seating and nine o’clock seating. This way they can control the number of meals the kitchen is putting out at any given time. Read more about taking restaurant reservations.

Before buying any furniture for your new restaurant, draw up a floor plan of the dining room, to scale. Try different configurations of tables and chairs. It will give you a better idea of how many seats you will be able to comfortably fit, and still allow enough room for staff to maneuver between tables.

Finally, your budget will play a role in what you choose for restaurant seating. Commercial seating, like other commercial grade restaurant equipment, is expensive because it is designed to last a long time. The good thing about a small dining room is you won’t need to buy a lot of tables and chairs, which can consume a bulk of your start-up budget.