Take a Seat

Put yourself in the driver's seat for guest comfort

The part of dining out that should keep patrons at the edge of their seats is an epic dish—not an uncomfortable chair. But choosing a superb seat can be tough. It’s a combination of knowing your concept and market, deciding between chairs, stools or benches, and taking stock of comfort, utility and space constraints. So pull up a chair and get schooled on striking the right balance between form and function.


Chairs are the tacit centerpieces of hospitable spaces, inviting people to sit and relax. The most common seating features are a slightly lower stance, a wide, deep seat and low-slung arms, but a good chair is a balance of proportion rather than dimension.

“Style and context determine the appropriate look and feel for any furniture group,” says Patrick O’Hare, vice president at EDG Interior Architecture + Design in San Rafael, Calif. “Typically, a lounge-style chair is grouped to take advantage of the intimacy afforded by a comfortable setting, which is inspired by high-end residential settings.”

O’Hare used this grouping strategy while designing luxury seaside lounge Jack Dusty at The Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota, Fla. Low-backed seating with enveloping arms pairs with low settees and large coffee tables. Light fabric and leather, enhanced with splashes of colorful throw pillows, provide a casually elegant beach house look, while commercial-grade, stain-resistant coatings protect against wear and tear.  

The dining room at Brooklyn, N.Y., hotspot Fushimi leans towards plush, comfortable seating. Douglas Horst, president of Horst Design International in Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y., picked horseshoe-shaped enclaves with deep padding and soft velour-type upholstery that provide full-height back support. 

“A luxurious seat option includes an extra-wide seating area and fully supporting back rest,” Horst says. “The higher the better—both aesthetically and ergonomically.” 


Raw materials without upholstery, such as wooden or metal chairs, can make a smaller space feel larger and provide visual interest. To achieve this goal, chair back dimensions should be at least 18 inches high and have a base (seat) at least 20 inches wide. 

Space is a premium at French bistro La Coop in Louisville, Ky. Co-owner Steven Ton tackled the problem using classic wooden Bentwood chairs in the dining room and bar stools for counter seating. 

“The dimensions fit the small dining space, the style is appropriate for the concept and the unpadded wooden frame provides the needed transparency for a larger spatial feeling,” Ton says. 

Want to give guests a place to park themselves immediately but prevent lingering? Go with hard surfaces, little to no padding, narrow seating, low (or no) backs and no arms. 

Ton opted for a classic upholstered Ladderback chair with a metal laddered back in the dining room at his other Louisville restaurant, Doc Crow’s Southern Smokehouse and Raw Bar. “The chairs provide adequate comfort and support without the luxurious touches,” he says. Barstools with semi-backing also encourage turnover throughout the evening.

Ultimately, a good chair comes down to purpose and proportions. Figure out the core of your concept and how long you want guests to stay put. At the very least, it’s worth having a few folks test a seat ahead of time before making a big investment. 

Rob Benes is a Chicago-based journalist who has written about the hospitality industry for 10 years.

The Hot Seat 

What’s next in chair trends? America’s leading designers weigh in: 


Michelle Bushey, design director at ID Studio 4 in Irving, Texas, says upholstered chairs are on the rise for restaurants wanting to convey comfort and sophistication. Because food and drink stains are inevitable, she recommends using luxury vinyl or faux leather with a matching back or coordinated fabric.

Armrests add an element of relaxation and tend to promote longer meal periods. To minimize table squatters, use chairs made of wood or metal with little to no padding and backs that extend to the middle of patrons’ backs, says Ed Norman, president of MVP Services Group in Dubuque, Iowa.

Timeless colors and patterns  always convey a sense of luxury,  says Melanie Corey-Ferrini, founder of Dynamikspace in Seattle, Wash. Pick chairs with soft textures and neutral patterns to create an effortlessly chic look.