Small Restaurants Can Live Large September 14, 2022

Whether creating a restaurant in an attic space, adding an eating counter in a retail store, or honoring a small historic space that was built in the 1800s, deciding to go cozy can be a gift. With as few as 12 or 24 seats, a small restaurant can cost less to start, turn a profit sooner and be easier to run during a time of staffing shortages. Emotionally, there’s a sense of connection that happens simply because there’s no choice. People may literally rub shoulders with one another. Small talk naturally happens between tables, which can make everything more real-life social.

Layout Efficiency or Bust

The rule of thumb is to earmark 60% of space for out front and 40% of the space for the kitchen. In a tiny space, Eater says there’s no room for error, “Everything must be built to function like a well-oiled machine.” That means enough tables for profit and enough space to create a comfortable social environment for guests. Pathways between kitchen and tables must be carved out for the benefit of servers. When there’s less space for ingredients and a smaller kitchen, the menu needs to shrink to be practical too. In other words, every square inch must be deliberate right down to the size of the plates you place on the tables.

Focus on Three Things

According to Restaurant, the three most important things to focus on are: “partitioning and flow control, lighting and color palette.” Many designers suggest keeping the palette tight with about three colors. And like jewelry, less can mean a lot more for decorations. Consider staying with a visual theme like all black and white photography. Fabric can also define spaces and add intimacy. What about dialing up impact with a statement wall of colorful tile, a mural, or a vertical wall of plants? Also remember to hide the utilities so that pipes and things like HVAC aren’t causing visual clutter.

Warm lighting goes a long way. So, maximize natural light as much as possible. Lighting in darker areas can be tiered and well placed. Consider sconces and small strips of up lighting on wall ledges or other built-ins. And never forget the tried-and-true tip of well-placed mirrors. They draw the gaze of those inside while also reflecting light.

Furniture for Small Spaces

Chairs and tables placed at the center of a small dining space can eat up more valuable space than intended. Higher pub-style seating can help guests feel like the space is expansive. Another solution? Booths. They often maximize head count whether for an everyday diner or a chic luxury spot. Adding wooden ledges or upscale partitions takes booths high end.

Zones Can Help

Depending on your space, your sections for cooking, storage and eating zones may be separated visually. Or not. In some small restaurants, the guests are so close that they’ve given the chef a hand. Pass the apron! It’s all about the vibe you’re creating and how much “home” you want happening at your place.

And how about the fresh air zone? Many small spots find a natural way to spill over and delight guests with an al fresco offering. Front sidewalks work. Side, back and rooftop patios too. If your kitchen and staff can handle it, you can nearly double your size. For most, there’s no need to pay more rent or add parking or rest rooms. In shoulder seasons, enclosing an outdoor patio keeps revenue strong longer. Many small restaurants earn back their capital in as little as 2- 3 months. We’ve found that’s the case with our clients who have added a rope & pulley/hand rolled patio enclosure. Our experts can share details if you’re curious. They’re always happy to offer insight on realistic ways small restaurants can add extra breathing room. Reach out for more information.

Small is indeed beautiful, personal, and special. Some of the most talented chefs in the country with restaurants of all sizes say they’ve become friends with guests thanks to their smallest restaurants. So, hold your head up as you help your community cozy up.


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