There are many reasons customers make repeat visits to your restaurant. Chief among them, as our latest free eBook surmises, are quality, personable service, and the ability to earn rewards.
Your food needs to impress. Your service needs to impress. Guests need to feel like they’re getting a great value for the money they spend. All these reasons and more will drive a restaurant customer back into your arms time after time. But one thing is definitely guaranteed to drive them away:
It may seem like a paltry concern at first glance, but the comfort — or lack thereof — of your guest over the course of an hour or more can make or break their experience of your restaurant. Every table, chair, booth, and bar stool you needs to answer the following three questions:
1. Is it comfortable?
2. Is it durable?
3. Does it fit my brand?
Is it comfortable?
This cannot be overstated: chairs need to fit your average AND non-average sized customer. Will a person at 300 pounds be as comfortable — and supported — in your chair or bar stool as someone at 100 pounds? Will a customer at the height of 6’5” have room for their long legs when seated at a full table? Will the feet of someone at 4’9” touch the floor (or stool bar) when seated on your chair?
What shape you’re your chair seat take? Completely flat chair seats can be really uncomfortable if you sit for a whole meal, but curved ones are designed to take the strain off. It’s difficult to account for everyone’s comfort, true. But planning for the widest possible range of body types in your customer base will help minimize complaints and maximize return visits.
There is, however, a balancing act to be maintained between the comfort of your guest and the ability to maximize your dining room space. It is true that the sturdier (and roomier) a chair or table is constructed, the more comfortable it is likely to be. But if you fill your front of house with 10 extra large chairs instead of 15 medium to large seats, you are robbing yourself of potential business every shift.
Keep in mind that comfort isn’t always just a subjective standard. Businesses open to the public have a legal obligation, in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, to comply with certain standards of accessibility for their patrons. ADA compliance may dictate that the tables you choose need to accommodate wheelchairs without hindrance.
Consider carefully how table legs and angles could interfere with wheelchairs or make sitting down difficult for patrons assisted by crutches or braces. Test out chair lengths and table height in combination with a wheelchair to determine how your guests will share the space available underneath the table. Will a wheelchair slide underneath the tabletop comfortably? Are your other chairs so deep that one guest’s knees will end up bumping against the wheel or legs of a disabled patron?
Is it durable?
It’s important to consider longevity when deciding on your furnishings. Chairs, in particular, are a purchase you’d like to avoid making more often than you would plan a full remodel of your space. Part of making sure that’s achievable is not just caring for your furniture over time, but purchasing chairs that are easily cared for.
Is the fabric on your seat and seat back stain resistant? Or should you look for all wooden chairs with a varnish that will wipe clean and can be regularly sanitized with a quick pass? Leather is an expensive, but highly durable option that combines comfort with ease to maintain. Upholstered seats can give your customers some extra cushion, but may wear and fray over time.
More modern, sustainable options are available for restaurants as well, something that may be particularly attractive to establishments that highlight their concern for the environment and farm-to-table practices. Bamboo is a highly durable material that is very easy to recycle into furniture, for instance. We’ve even seen seats made from recycled automobile seat belts — easily cleaned and environmentally responsible!
Another factor to consider is storage and how easily items you purchase can be moved around your restaurant. Staff frequently need to reconfigure settings to accommodate groups of many sizes, and your tables need to be able to take frequent moves. This is where the risk of a wobbly leg or awkwardly attached leaf can become a potential danger.
Any furniture you purchase for your restaurant should also be able to slide easily across your flooring — with minimal physical effort and quickly without disruption. No one wants to be sitting down to a quiet dinner only to have servers struggling with a new table and chair combination six feet away.
Many unions, in fact, have regulations about the size and weight of the items they move (and in many places, furniture may not be able to be moved without union involvement). Check maximum weight restrictions with your local union rep to be sure you’re not heading down a very expensive and troubling path.
Don’t forget, too, to consider how extra chairs and tables will store when not in use. Can they stack efficiently in a storage room? Or do they all have to be out in your front of house all the time?
Does it fit my brand?
Ultimately, it’s just as important that your restaurant seating represents your brand (and not just your individual taste) appropriately. Your customer is looking for a cohesive experience where everything from your menu and glassware to your lighting and wall decoration works together. Fortunately, there are more styles and designs of restaurant seating than you can even imagine, and many of them get at the very root of ambiance and can help you set a reinforce the atmosphere you’re hoping to achieve.
Some restaurant designs are now opening up to conversational gathering styles (couches around low tables), as well as long communal tables with benches. If your menu focuses on family-style dining or shared plates, this type of furniture will only accent that experience for your customers.
But be wary of eliminating more intimate space altogether, particularly if your party size is generally smaller or older. Not every diner wants to be seated in close quarters or have to slide past a stranger. Table and chair arrangements, like all other aspects of your physical space, need to be practical for your guests.
What about booths? They’re generally comfortable for all sorts of customers and easily cleaned, the privacy afforded by the semi-enclosed space is fantastic from ambiance perspective, and they don’t take up much more space than a traditional table and chair setting. But you may run into trouble when hosting very large or very small parties.
The typical 4-6 seat booth can be very restrictive to your flexibility to reset and combine, leaving you with limitations on the table turns — and profit — you can make. Parties of six or more may end up waiting longer, while parties of two are taking up the same amount of space four patrons would otherwise. So while booths might seem like a clear choice for your restaurant, it’s important to install booths very judiciously, if at all.
But can I afford it?
There’s no other way to say this: chairs are extremely expensive, even at wholesale. And the price difference between one style and another can be vast. Is there a value difference between a $200 and $500 chair? Yes, very likely. It’s not just perception of name brand or look that drives the cost of these items. You get what you pay for in long term durability and relative comfort. The question becomes, where do you draw the line on a limited budget?
Rewards Network has funding options for projects large and small that can help you get the chair and tables you need to furnish your front of house — without upfront cost. Our cash flow-friendly options can get you the restaurant financing you need, with marketing to put more customers into those seats!
Considering other front-of-house improvements? Check out our free eBook on “Restaurant Renovation” now: