Every New Yorker knows that space is a luxury, from paying the right price per square foot for an apartment to maintaining personal space on the subway during rush hour. One place where the lack of space is especially evident is in NYC restaurants. We’ve all been there, sitting elbow-to-elbow with our party while the stranger behind us continues to bump our chair. Needless to say, inadequate seating can completely ruin the dining experience.

While many restaurant owners measure the adequacy of their seating in terms of customer wait times, it is also important that other factors go into consideration before a floor plan is finalized. For example, are guests able to sit comfortably, not bumping arms or scooting in and out of their tables? Is our wait staff able to easily maneuver between tables while carrying drinks or trays of food? If your answer to either of these questions is “no,” then it’s time for a redesign.

When designing a restaurant floor plan to maximize seating, there are three important tips to remember:

Do Some Mental Math

Looking at the size of your restaurant, how many people can you seat comfortably? Consider the atmosphere you are going for. Is your restaurant a fast-casual spot, or a more intimate dining experience? Based on your response, consider how much square feet of space you’d like each customer to have (most restaurants aim for somewhere in the range of 10-18 square feet). Divide the square footage of your restaurant by the amount of square footage per person, and you’ve got your maximum occupancy. 

Once you know how many seats you’re working with, deciding how to place them becomes much more intentional.

Stay on Top of Your Tables

Tracking where diners are at in their experience (have they ordered? Eaten? Gotten the check?) is essential for restaurants looking to maximize seating. Restaurants that track table status are able to seat new guests in sections where the activity is dying down, preventing wait staff from becoming overwhelmed and keeping a steady flow of customers in and out of the restaurant. This seating plan also saves customers from having to fight for their server’s attention. 

The Customer Knows Best

Rather than trying to guess where the best place to seat guests is, go straight to the source! Ask customers whether they’d prefer a table or booth, indoor or outdoor, etc. Giving customers a say not only increases the odds that they’ll be happy with their seating, but it also starts their visit off on a positive note.

Despite these tips, restaurant seating isn’t an exact science. It can take restaurants a few tries to get things right, so don’t stress about changing your seating arrangement if you find it isn’t working. Make note of changes that have improved customers’ dining experience, scrap what hindered employees, and head back to the drawing board until you find an arrangement that both staff and guests are happy with.

Customers spend the majority of their visit sitting, so it’s essential that their seating is welcoming and enjoyable. Through detailed planning, careful monitoring, and a bit of customization, your restaurant can improve the guests’ dining experience. When customers know they can step off the crowded streets and into a comfortable space of their own to dine, they’re likely to return.