For a lot of things in life, more is indeed better. But, when it comes to customers and seating arrangements, that couldn’t really be further from the truth.
While more customers mean more service – which then, in turn, means more profit -, it’s absolutely vital to take into consideration that clients are interested not only in the food but also the experience it comes with. The way clients are seated is a huge part of it. Your goal should be to provide the best possible experience while maximizing your profit!
This responsibility can be daunting, so we compiled a few tips to kick-start the process.
1) Be sure of what you have to work with – mathematically sure!
All the other tips are dependent on this. So while it may be a bit dull to pick up the measuring tape and the calculator, and then go around the restaurant doing maths and taking notes, it absolutely is the basis of everything else you’ll need to do. You need to know how much space you have at your disposal.
First of all, identify the different areas where it would be possible to seat customers – while obviously taking into account the areas that are needed for other purposes. Take this opportunity to also consider if the areas that are being left out are worth being left out, or if you can shift things around to maximize space and better the experience for your customers.
In order to get the best results, also talk to staff to find out which routes are better and would enable a faster and more convenient service. The different paths from tables to serving stations, to the bar, and the kitchen should be as direct as possible and make sure to minimize possible inconveniences to clients.
After identifying and reconsidering the available space, simply calculate the square footage you have at your disposal by measuring all possible seating areas. Then, use the square footage number you just calculated to estimate how many guests you’ll be able to accommodate at once.
Obviously, this process will depend on the type of restaurant, the ambiance you want to create, and who your audience is. While a fine dining experience will require much more space per client – ranging from 18 to 20 square feet per client – fast-food businesses will naturally look to maximize profit by cramping customers together – going all the way down to 11 square feet per customer.
This is a very detail oriented process, which for the sake of brevity and levity is being simplified here. Total Food Service offers an incredibly in-depth perspective on this topic, giving you really good insight throughout the article!
2) Think adaptation and don’t be afraid to be square
Even if you think of the best paths possible and pay attention to every single detail, occasionally some adaptations may be necessary. For most businesses – not to say all of them, probably – it wouldn’t make sense to permanently have a 30-seat table. But, what happens if you want to accommodate a huge reservation?
That is where movable tables and chairs come into play. Aim to balance the fixed parts of your setting with movable parts. While a few corner booths are perfectly fine, especially if they are set in a way that would allow moving parts to connect at will, you don’t want to be forced to seat people separately or risk losing that huge group booking by only having the ability to seat small groups!
The best way to keep it adaptable is to think square when buying tables. Instead of buying a single very long table that would maybe sit something like 10 people, you can get smaller square tables that seat 4 people. You can always connect them and seat larger groups without being limited by the existence of a huge table you’ll rarely use! Likewise, think of adaptability when buying chairs and other pieces of furniture. While you want to provide diversity and maximize function, keeping a general tone allows you to mix it up and adapt to the needs of your clients.
A different way to be adaptable is to invest your time and pick up the DIY trend. Doing It Yourself can save money and make the whole decorating process be much more rewarding. The best part of it is that if something unexpected comes up, you will have the experience and the tools to adapt on the spot. There are countless ways to customize the dining space yourself, here are a few ideas to get you started!
3) When the time comes, expand past what you first had to work with
Let’s assume you are already making the most out of the space you have. You did your research, you made everyone’s experience better, but you still feel like a bit more could get accomplished someway. That way is expanding – both in space and in concept.
While investing in a bigger space is certainly a possibility, it’s a big commitment that isn’t always your only choice. After all, after focusing on the inside, there’s always the possibility of expanding to the outside. During Summer, guests love wining and dining outside to make the most of the warm temperatures and the longer days.
Then, if your concept allows, rooftops, basements, and balconies are extremely interesting options to maximize space while also providing patrons with a different way to experience your products. When doing this, it’s extremely important to teach the staff to be aware of who would be willing to take these seatings, or even to implement systems in which patrons can indicate if they would be interested in taking such seatings.
While basement dining certainly isn’t for anyone, even the New York Times has shown the concept some love, so why wouldn’t you?
4) You’ve set the tables, now get them moving!
When developing your seating arrangement, you create an estimation of the time each client will be sticking around. Since clients that stay around for too long without consuming have a direct impact on your profits, you need to keep things moving.
There are multiple ways to do this, from focusing on educating staff for common practices in the industry, to investing in tablets to serve simultaneously as menus and entertainment systems for the young ones.
With a tablet menu, clients are immediately able to browse products, have access to more precise information, place orders, and even pay!
While this can have a positive impact in the picking, ordering and payment phases, certain customers simply won’t leave. In those cases, there are multiple strategies to deal with those pesky customers, but keep in mind that it’s always an extremely touchy issue that has to be handled with tact. There’s no point in developing an amazing experience only to ruin it by telling them that they need to leave all of a sudden.
Unfortunately, there isn’t any map or step by step process to get this done effectively and without damaging the customer’s perspective of the business. Your best bet it is to have an experienced staff around you that can deal with these situations with a case to case approach.
5) Everything that isn’t strictly seating
It may seem counterintuitive. After all, this is an article about how to make the most of your seating arrangements. But also spending some time developing all the areas that aren’t directly connected to seating will have its impact on it for sure.
For example, take the time to focus on possible flaws in the overall design of the building. Things like faulty isolation that lead to temperature changes, improper separation of certain areas such as the kitchen and the bathrooms, or even the overall maintenance of the space, can have a huge indirect impact in how much things you will have to account for when developing your seating arrangement.
If the noise coming from the kitchen isn’t an issue at all, you won’t have to worry about people not wanting to seat near it. The same goes for the dreaded bathroom seats. Being creative and establishing a very clear separation that removes the social weight of being seated there can work wonders for your customer satisfaction numbers.
Similarly, focusing on all the other aspects of the dining experience will indirectly add value through the seating arrangements. By creating a consistent image and ambiance with the seats you have established will allow people to enjoy it fully. In some cases, it may even increase profit! Read this article on how a coherent choice of music can increase restaurant sales, profit, and even customer-experience!
If you establish a seating arrangement that keeps customers apart but then decorate and market the business as a social experience, both sides will be taking from each other. Conversely, if you keep customers bundled together but then decorate the restaurant as a high-end place, you will not be getting back all that time and effort you put into developing the perfect seating arrangement, so try to face things as a whole.
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