How to update seating and stay within budget
If booths are starting to sag, or scratches run across a high top’s previously smooth surface, an update is likely in order. Putting in new seating, however, isn’t a straightforward task. From cost to layout and style, there are many factors that weigh into the decision-making process.
To avoid getting overwhelmed, start by envisioning the dining experience you want to offer. “Think about the customer’s expectations,” says John Linden, an interior and furniture designer in Los Angeles. If clients come in for a fast meal, simple tables and stools can help accommodate a lot of movement. If you want an upscale atmosphere where customers linger for drinks and dessert, upholstered booths and chairs might be a better option.
Also consider the type of customer you serve. Does your staff frequently wait on soccer teams, large groups or private parties? If so, you’ll want to make sure you can easily seat a crowd. “Banquettes are great for flexibility since you can push together or pull apart a series of smaller tables for different sized groups,” says Jessica Haley, an interior designer at Boston-based RODE Architects who has helped develop the spaces for eateries in the area.
If your base consists mostly of couples or families, comfort may be key. “Booths are popular, but inflexible,” Haley says. “Bar seats, drink rails and high tops are great for the single diner.”
A combination of seating options allows you to meet different customer needs. Booths, as well as tables and chairs, gives diners choices. A communal table or two can accommodate larger groups.
Large or small, your current space’s dimensions will play a role in the right seating to choose. “Consider how many seats you need to be profitable, while also taking into consideration things like ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements and room for your servers to maneuver,” says Ryan Mitchell of East Coast Chair & Barstool in Mercer, Pennsylvania. The ADA requires restaurants with tables to have five percent, or at least one (if less than 20 are provided) that are accessible to guests in wheelchairs.
If your place is small and fitting in as many guests as possible is essential, opt for more tables and chairs rather than booths. “Booths are great for families, if you have the room, but they can quickly eat up the space in your dining area,” Mitchell says. “One way to have the best of both worlds is to do a banquet-style booth that runs along an interior wall and use smaller tables that can be pushed together for groups.”
Also consider the type of flooring in your eatery. “If you have tile floors, you might want to choose wood-frame chairs over metal-frame chairs,” says Joanna Terry, director of hospitality sales at National Business Furniture. “Wood chairs aren’t as loud as metal chairs when sliding them across a hard surface like tile.” Metal will reflect sound, while wood chairs will absorb the noise. For carpeted areas, either wood or metal chairs would work.
If you’re updating only some of your seating, check that the new pieces will fit with the current selection. “As more furniture is designed oversized to accommodate a larger American population, you have to take the dimensions of the chairs and barstools into consideration because they may not be the same as your old furniture,” Mitchell says. If you decide to keep the tables your pizzeria currently has and purchase new chairs, make sure the pieces will fit under the tables and not stick out into the aisles.
Look at your current décor when deciding what style of furniture to get. If you want a modern theme, consider furniture that is sleek and angular, suggests Haley. If the style is more eclectic, try a few different wooden chair styles that are similar in size; then mix and match them throughout the restaurant.
If you want to try out new colors, opt for shades that are complementary to what you already have, advises Linden. Tools like Paletton.com can give you a clear, visual idea of what colors will look like together.
Also, keep cleanliness in mind. “Avoid seating with fabric upholstery,” Terry says. For high traffic areas, look for materials that can be easily wiped off, like vinyl, metal, plastic, laminate, and wood. Make sure booths have a space between the seats and backs where food and crumbs can easily be removed.
“Furniture is an investment just like any other equipment, and your goal should be to get a good return on that investment,” Mitchell says. “Absolute cost is important, but it isn’t the only consideration.” Lower-priced pieces might need to be replaced more frequently. Higher-priced commercial grade that lasts five to seven years could be a better deal in the long run. Booth seating might be more expensive than tables and chairs but can be customized to fit your place’s specific space.
Also look at how quickly the items will show marks. “Overall, metal framed seating is generally more economical and definitely more durable for long-term use,” Terry says. “Wood framed seating can range from moderate to higher-end in terms of price and will show wear more quickly.”
Freight costs can have an impact on the final price. If you order furniture online, look to see what it will cost to have it delivered. Getting 10 chairs with a freight cost of $100 increases the price of each chair by $10. “With local dealers, the freight is often factored into the price,” says Mitchell. You might have to pay $10 more per chair to start with, as well as delivery fees or a truck rental to get the items to your restaurant.
While there are many variables that will lead to your final seating choices, the result can be worthwhile. Customers who are dining in a comfortable and stylish setting are more likely to enjoy their meal and better yet, come back for more.
Rachel Hartman is a freelance writer who covers small business, finance and lifestyle topics.