I found the perfect location for my new restaurant, but there is just one problem: the dining room is too big. I’m glad I have the space for lots of tables, but is there a way to make it more intimate? I don’t have a lot of money for construction or to hire an architect. Do you have any advice?
Negotiate Your Lease
If you haven’t already signed a lease for the space, consider negotiating with your prospective landlord about building some dividing walls. Some landlords will foot the entire bill for renovations, since in theory it’s their building they are improving. Others will argue that you should pay for a bulk of the renovations, since it is your business. Either way, before starting any construction, have it spelled out in your lease which party is responsible for any renovations. Even if the landlord just builds the bare bones and you do the finishing work, like painting, it can save you time and money before opening day. Read more about how to negotiate a restaurant lease.
Consider Different Floor Plans
Instead of having the bar right when you walk in the door, place it in the center of the room and build dining sections around it. Or if the space is really big, consider having an open kitchen. As you plan your restaurant dining room, make sure that the space flows, leaving a clear path from the front door, to the dining room for customers, and from the dining room to the kitchen for staff.
Mix up the Seating
Using booths along the perimeter of a dining room is another way to break up a large space into smaller sections. To accommodate large parties, keep table and chairs in the middle of the section. This is a common practice at chain restaurants, like Ruby Tuesdays, 99 and Texas Roadhouse.
Keep Your Dining Room Flexible
Another alternative to permanent walls, are dividers. These low, temporary walls can be moved around to accommodate both large and small parties. Keeping wait stations portable as well, will allow you to change your dining room as needed. You can also use folding decorative screens or tall plants as boundaries between dining spaces. Read more about setting up dining spaces.
Keep Lighting Subtle
Another way to make a large space seem smaller and more intimate is with lighting. Keep overhead lights low in the evening and use smaller lamps mounted to the wall or directly over the table or electric candles. This will add instant coziness.
Be Aware of Problem Areas
No matter what the size of your dining room, you should be on the lookout for any problem areas. The best way to do this is to sit in every single seat in your dining room and study the view. You may be surprised to find that a seat has a direct view of the wait station, or is in a draft by the door, or any other number of problems. Read more about how to handle restaurant dining room problem areas.
Finally, keep in mind that even the most cavernous of spaces quickly shrinks when you start adding in tables, chairs, wait stations and a bar. You may think it is going to look big and sparse, but in actuality, by the time you have added all the necessary equipment, it’s going to be much, much smaller.