February 20

Your Restaurant Floor Plan Makes No Sense


Your restaurant floor plan makes no sense. And that’s totally ok.

Many restaurant floor plans make about as much sense as Pennsylvania’s 7th congressional district. Table numbers defy any known base-10 counting system and sections are laid out without consideration of basic cartography. Some POS and reservation apps have tried to bring order to the situation, but results have been mixed. In a restaurant, habits are more like traditions and can be very hard to change.

How does this happen? While every restaurant is different, floor plans go all cattywampus for the same reason: out of necessity. There just isn’t a perfectly logical way to lay out a restaurant floor.

It’ll start with the best intentions of being organized and intuitive. Someone will think of a first principle like ‘the table closest to the kitchen would be Table 1. The next closest would be Table 2.’ But with the twists and turns of a restaurant’s doors, walls and windows, the resulting layout will resemble a M.C. Escher fever dream. Soon enough the room will have tables called Table 0 (between 6 and 7, of course) and Table 10a (added after the layout was done and it was decided to not renumber the other tables around it.)

And we haven’t even started talking about sections yet.

Sections are generally designed to break a room up for the servers. The idea is to balance out seating between the opening, middle and closing shifts as much as possible. The result is often completely independent of the table numbers, with sections taking on the shapes of former Soviet republics. The best part is section names. Management might think they’re called Sections 1, 2 or 3, but the staff know them as “Princess” for being closest to the pass, or “The Green Mile” for being the farthest.

And we are just going to pass over the eye-twitchingly complex trading of tables in silence.

The result of all this looks a lot like chaos to an outside observer – but this is the fascinating part: it all works. A restaurant will run hundreds of plates to tables during service without a single misstep. The table numbers and section names take on idiomatic meanings that are near indecipherable to a non-initiate. A busser will be told to “water the Green Mile and check 0 for sets” without any misunderstanding.

Your restaurant floor plan probably doesn’t make sense, but rather than try to “fix” it, just let it be. Restaurants aren’t built out of the desire to organize, but out of the need to create spaces where people feel comfortable. Restaurant floor plans are more about flow than order. As long as everything gets to where it needs to go, your floor plan makes sense enough.

About the author

Jack Hott

Some say Jack Hott was born in a restaurant. Others say he wasn’t born at all but discovered behind a Hobart stand mixer. Wherever he comes from, he’s made a career out of only being a good enough employee to skate by in the restaurant industry since the mid-90s. Jack Hott, if that’s even his real name, has gotten lost in walk-ins, stared into the abyss of pizza ovens, spilled red wine on white linen tablecloths, and shaken cocktails he was supposed to stir. If you can find him on social media, for your own safety, please do not follow him.


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