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5 Small Restaurant Design Ideas and Safety Regulations: 2020 & Beyond

Whether you’re opening a new establishment or remodeling an old neighborhood gem, developing a restaurant’s layout and design can be tricky. With new regulations and measures required for safety, everything from spacing tables to zoning areas for food delivery requires a conscious decision. The challenge is even greater if you’re tight on space. While some places have multiple rooms, others only have one large room at the front of the house. But don’t worry! We have five small restaurant design ideas to make your location both safe and appealing.

Establish a Floor Plan with Plenty of Space

Before you consider styles and embellishments, come up with a solid floor plan first. A small restaurant floor plan should have a proper kitchen to dining space ratio. Most experts agree you should allocate 60 percent of your total space for the dining area and 40 percent of your entire space for the kitchen and prep area. Here are some considerations for the dining area, kitchen and delivery/takeout zone:

Dining Area

In the dining area, make sure to space tables and chairs appropriately. The old rule-of-thumb was 18 inches between each occupied chair, 42-60 inches between each square table and 24-30 inches between the corners of diagonal tables. However, new social-distancing measures might mean more space and less seating options until further notice. According to social-distancing guidelines from the Centres for Disease Control (CDC), there should be at least 6 feet, or 2 arms’ length, between people.

To meet these requirements, make sure to space each table, so they’re at least 72 inches apart on all sides. You might need to restrict seating to only bistro and small banquet tables, limiting dining to small parties between 2-6 people. For added protection, consider installing sneeze guards or other plexiglass barriers to the middle of each table. These partitions typically range between 20-30 inches tall.

Kitchen & Prep Stations

When organizing your commercial kitchen, make sure to create designated stations as part of the floor plan. There are a wide variety of ways to lay out the kitchen, but you should include at least these four core stations:

  • Hot station – Houses cooking equipment like ranges, warmers, fryers and grills.
  • Cold station –Includes refrigerators, freezers and coolers.
  • Cleaning station –Has multiple sinks and dishwasher for cleaning dishes, cookware, utensils and more.
  • Prep & baking station – Where you do things like chop, knead and mix.
  • Delivery & takeout prep – Where staff packs orders for delivery and takeout orders.

Other zones can be set up for plating, deserts and salads, depending your kitchen’s size. You should have at least a small area designated for loading and storage. In the back of the house near the kitchen, have a mid-size room that can act as an office and break room for the staff.

Delivery & Takeout Station

To prevent crowding near the front of the restaurant, designate a special area for only delivery and takeout orders. If you have multiple side doors by the front of the house, reserve one of them for just pick-up. As long as it doesn’t interfere with dine-in patrons, the station should help prevent a high volume of traffic near the main entrance.

Set up a small counter where a staff member can hand out delivery and takeout orders. If the kitchen is nearby, each order can be placed inside a warming and cooling equipment in the kitchen. However, if you have the space, consider placing a small warming cabinet or refrigeration in that delivery and takeout station. That way orders can be distributed quickly.

Want to go the contactless route? You could place grab-and-go cabinets in the area, so customers and delivery drivers can pick up food directly. Different equipment manufacturers make locked cabinets to store cold and hot items, keeping pick-up as streamlined and convenient as possible. For example, scan a QR or type an access code to unlock a compartment and take their food. This type of equipment integrates with POS software, ensuring the right orders get to the right people and that customers are alerted when their food is ready.

Create an Inviting Yet Safe Entry

The entryway typically gives patrons a first impression of your establishment. For a small restaurant, there might not be a ton of space to work with. Fortunately, there are tricks you can use to maximize the front of your restaurant and ensure safety.

Safety Measures

Think about incorporating these concepts to keep patrons and staff safe as they enter the restaurant:

  • No waiting area – Eliminate the old-fashioned waiting area to encourage social distancing. Instead of spending on chairs, benches or small couches, invest in phones or software to text customers when their table or takeout order is ready.
  • Capacity counter – Place an LED board near the front that alerts guests how many patrons are in the dining area. Make sure there is signage that includes information about reserving a table or placing a takeout order in case the dining area is at maximum capacity.
  • Minimized traffic –If you have multiple doorways in the front of the house, designate the front door for patrons entering the restaurant for takeout, delivery and dine-in service. Use a side door only for customers exiting the building.
  • Sanitizer stations –Place sanitizer stations carefully near the doors or pick-up counters, so staff and patrons can sanitize their hands as they enter, exit or move about the restaurant.
  • Partitions by host and cashier stations – Install a clear partition on the top surface of any host, cashier or pick-up counter. Make sure it’s at least 20 inches and that there is a small slot to receive cash or make change.

Design Ideas

Whether the entrance is a separate room or leads right into the dining area, make sure the floor plan dedicates enough room to create a seamless flow. Consider adding ledges or small partitions behind the hosting station to help isolate the entryway while still showcasing the atmosphere of your dining room and bar. Include different wall art and décor that suits your establishment’s theme (we’ll share some decorating ideas later).

Make Your Bar the Focal Point

Unlike larger establishments that can divide the bar and dining room, some small restaurant bar designs don’t have this luxury. In that case, make the bar a focal point at the front of the house. In a wider space, have the bar situated in the back, so it catches the eyes of patrons who walk in. If you have a narrow location, consider having the bar on either the right or left side with dining tables flanked on both sides. Make sure to leave at least 6 feet width between the tables and bar top area.

Bar top seating might not be allowed in your area. Check with your state or local officials for the latest regulations. If it is allowed or is slated to be reinstated, make sure to eliminate some chairs so each patron is at least 6 feet apart. Also, consider installing a clear, plexiglass guard on the countertop to separate bartenders from patrons. Make sure the partition has small openings to serve drinks.

Aside from décor and embellishments (we’ll get to that later), start by creating a catchy display with your liquor and barware. Then, play around with the bar lighting by adding LED shelves or hanging fixtures. Either option will bring a glow the space to make it stand out from the rest of the dining area.

Decorate According to the Atmosphere

Décor is a must for any small restaurant design, but whatever you choose to adorn the walls, ceilings and floors depends on the theme of your place. For instance, a sports bar would need to have plenty of banners, jerseys and memorabilia throughout the space. A more sophisticated spot, on the other hand, should have tasteful paintings, plants and wall art.

But there is much more to decorating than just artwork on the walls. Certain themes can either help your place feel cozy or appear larger. Colour is one way to capture the mood of any environment. Red, beige or other dark colours create a cozy atmosphere while light hues like green, blue or white give the feeling of a large, open space. Mirrors also help create the illusion of more space, making your space appear longer or wider.

Find Sweet Spots for TVs

Depending on the theme of your location, too many TVs in a small space can be overwhelming not only for patrons but also on your utility and cable bills. As we established earlier, a restaurant bar or countertop dining area should be the focal point in a smaller space. That means the televisions should be positioned nearby.

If your restaurant is in a narrow location where the bar top is on the right or left side of the room, have a TV mounted on each side of the bar. For a wider, square-shaped space where the bar is toward the back, have TVs mounted not only to each side of the bar but also two near the front of the dining area. If your restaurant has more a of sports-bar feel to it, consider adding an additional television or two to air multiple games and events.



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