How To Optimize Your Restaurant Seating Layout and Table Management Strategy For COVID-19

a photo of Molly Weinberg

Molly Weinberg

5 min read

Jan 26, 2021

How To Optimize Your Restaurant Seating Layout and Table Management Strategy For COVID-19

With capacity limits and social distancing guidelines in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurateurs have to be thoughtful about how they seat their customers. They must optimize their restaurant seating layout and table management strategies to keep customers and staff safe while maximizing profits.

Striking this balance is challenging, especially if you run a small restaurant, but it’s possible. We’re sharing our top tips for how to make the most of your restaurant seating layout during the pandemic, including these restaurant seating ideas:

Encouraging reservations
Taking advantage of outdoor dining
Winterizing your outdoor dining space
Placing dividers between restaurant seating
Creating a digital waitlist
Setting and enforcing restaurant seating time limits
Using technology to speed up table turns

Encourage reservations

Offer reservations, or make them mandatory, to maintain capacity limits. Check local guidelines to determine how many customers you can have on-premise at once, and max out your reservation slots at that number.

Reconfigure the restaurant seating layout on your reservations and seating management tool to ensure safety, and help your servers navigate the new floor plan. If you’re unable to remove tables and booths from your dining room, mark every other one as occupied on your floor plan.

Not only do reservations keep your customers safe, but they also help you forecast how much business you’ll have so you know how much staff and inventory you’ll need on any given day.

Take advantage of outdoor space

Seventy-five percent of people feel comfortable dining at restaurants during the pandemic. Creating an outdoor dining room at your restaurant may help make more people feel safer giving you their business.

Many municipalities around the U.S. have created programs, like New York City’s Open Restaurants, that make it easy for restaurants to apply for outdoor seating permits. Take advantage of reduced bureaucracy and create an outdoor dining room.

Restaurant seating idea pro tip: Even if your sidewalk footprint is compact, you may be allowed to seat guests in front of neighboring businesses.

After you have your permits, plan your restaurant seating layout for your outdoor space by creating a mockup on your table management software.

Next, buy outdoor furniture. We recommend investing in versatile pieces, like chairs instead of booths and small tables that can easily be moved, so that you can adjust your floor plan at a moment’s notice.

Finally, add special touches to make your outdoor dining room feel like an extension of your restaurant, rather than an afterthought. For example, New York City Peruvian restaurant Baby Brasa used to entertain diners with live music indoors. They’ve revived this tradition by hiring musicians to perform outdoors. They also market their seating as beach cabanas to make it feel special, and to get guests excited about this new dining option. The team at Baby Brasa has spruced up these “cabanas” with tropical plants that transport guests from the urban jungle to a tropical jungle.

Winterize your outdoor dining space

Once you have your outdoor dining space up and running, it’s important to think about how you can protect your diners against cold weather, precipitation, and the coronavirus by winterizing your outdoor dining space. Consider investing in the following tools and accessories to make your restaurant’s patio appealing and safe year-round:

Heaters: Outdoor space heaters are the best investment you can make to keep guests dining on your patio year-round.
Tents and umbrellas: Protect diners from the elements by covering their heads. Just make sure that any tents you use aren’t closed on all sides to ensure ample ventilation.
Blankets: Blankets give diners an extra layer of warmth, and are a fun souvenir. Philadelphia’s Bar Bombon gives customers a branded fleece blanket with the purchase of a cocktail. Let diners keep blankets you provide them to avoid spreading COVID-19. Adjust food and drink prices to make up for the costs of blankets.

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Put up dividers

In areas where indoor dining is allowed, putting up dividers between tables may make customers feel safer dining inside. Don’t forget to keep a safe distance between tables even if you install dividers, and to wipe down surfaces like booths and tables between seatings.

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Dividers can also give your outdoor guests an added layer of protection from COVID-19 particles. While some restaurants are using simple plexiglass dividers, others are putting up individual igloo-like tents. Let more enclosed spaces air out by leaving ample time between reservations and by installing air purifiers.

Create a virtual waitlist

Rather than letting customers crowd inside your lobby or near your entrance to get on your restaurant’s waitlist, create a contactless, virtual waitlist. Give customers multiple ways to join the waitlist, such as via your website, Google My Business listing, or a QR code available on window or sidewalk signage.

Use a waitlist management tool with two-way SMS capabilities so that customers can text you questions while they wait, rather than approaching the host stand. Additionally, investing in virtual waitlist tech allows the diners to receive an accurate wait estimate and receive updates on their place in line.

Set and enforce time limits

With capacity restrictions in place, reducing how long customers spend at tables is the key to maximizing revenue for your restaurant. Make this possible by setting and enforcing time limits for seatings. While most restaurants have set 90-minute limits, research shows that 45 minutes is the sweet spot for optimizing earnings. Decide what’s best for your restaurant based on your venue type, data from your seating management tool, and what the competition is doing.

Let customers know about your time limit through your reservations platform. Tell them their time begins at the start of their reservation, and not when they arrive. If a table seems to be moving slowly, have staff politely let them know when they have 15 minutes left.

Use tech to increase table turns

Technology can help your guests meet the table time limits without being intrusive. Place QR codes on tables that link to your menu, and contactless payments platform. Rather than interacting with servers frequently — which takes time and introduces contact — customers can place orders and settle the bill on their phones.

Staff can still be there to answer questions and deliver food, but shouldn’t be as present as in pre-pandemic times. This approach to pandemic hospitality is fast and safe.

Optimizing your restaurant seating layout and table management strategy is the key to success during the pandemic

Restaurants have to strike a balance between serving their customers safely and generating as much revenue as they can within the limits of COVID-19 safety guidelines. An ad hoc approach to restaurant seating layout and table management just won’t cut it, especially when your restaurant is compact.

However, when you encourage reservations, set time limits, rearrange your floor plan, and use technology, your restaurant can increase its chances of success during these challenging times. Implementing a combination of these restaurant seating ideas can help your business thrive.

Learn how SevenRooms’ reservations, waitlist, and seating management tool can help you make the most of your floor plan strategy.

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