Restaurant Tables Spacing

In the hospitality industry there always seems to be a battle between restaurateurs need to maximize profit vs. customer's personal space requirements and what they see as a comfortable space to dine in.

Restaurateurs Needs vs. Customers Preferences

A study done by Cornell University found that what customers see as adequate space differs from what restaurateurs see as such. A well-known fact is that tightly spaced tables reduce the amount of time customers spend in the restaurant without reducing the spending, thus increasing that day’s turnover rate. However, certain customers will refrain from returning to the restaurant in the future because of the tightly spaced tables.

The study then asked 1,000 Americans about their preferences for table spacing and on its effect on future behaviors. This spacing is something that many restaurateurs “play” with in order to maximize seating capacity without always realizing that it has potential to deter patrons from returning to their venue.

What many restaurant owners fail to consider is that their patrons are often looking for more than just food. What they are after is an entire dining experience and that includes not only a good meal but also a pleasant atmosphere in which people are able to talk and spend some quality time with friends, family or business associates. That means that some privacy is expected and in order for that to happen, adequate space between tables is required (as shown in the image below).



Restaurant Tables Layout

The question is what does adequate space means? The answer actually varies between the different types of dining experience people are looking for and even between different cultural backgrounds. That is why it’s very important for restaurant owners to get to know their customers base and design their restaurant tables layout appropriately. For example:

  • When on a date, people expect more personal space and prefer not to be overheard or overcrowded by other diners. The same can be said for business meetings.
  • Less space is required for lunch breaks or families dining out.
  • Teenagers who are used to fast food settings are also more comfortable with less space between tables.
  • People who often eat out are more comfortable in restaurants with tighter placed tables compared to those who eat out less frequently.
  • In general, the setting of banquettes with parallel tables was less desirable especially by couples. Although this layout seems to have less of an impact when people are out to lunch during office breaks.

The current restaurant design module place the tables, on average, 12” or less apart. This setting however, despite being preferred by restaurant owners, is less desired by their patrons. One possible middle-ground between those two conflicting desires is the ability to make small layout changes “on the fly”. If a restaurant is frequented during lunchtime by office workers but also wants to attract patrons in the evenings one possible way to achieve both customer satisfaction and maximize revenue is to slightly change the spacing between tables after the lunch rush hour and before the evening diners come in. By removing a few tables to increase the spacing, the evening patrons will feel more comfortable and will be more likely to return to the restaurant in the future. This means that despite having a few less diners during any given evening, the restaurant eventually gains more returning customers and will have to spend less time and money on advertising. It will also receive more favorable reviews from customers (assuming food and service quality are also maintained at a high standard).

Diagrams 1 and 2 show the difference between acceptable table spacing during lunch (diagram 1) and evening (diagram 2) hours :



Closely spaced restaurant tables                    desired restaurant tables layout
Diagram 1                                                                                           Diagram 2

In summary, a fast food restaurant or a take-out restaurant where seating isn’t demanded as much will probably do just fine keeping their layout of tightly spaced tables unchanged. However, the above mentioned study and its findings can have relevant and important implications to those restaurant managers and owners that have a long term visions for a successful restaurant that will cater to more than one type of customers during its operating hours. That’s why being able to easily and quickly alter slightly the spacing of your restaurant tables during the day is an important factor in the long term success of such a venue.

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