Too Close For Comfort

Squeeze more diners in without cramping your style. Seven ways to ease traffic in restaurant waiting areas.

Nearly every restaurateur dreams about being too busy to shoehorn even one last customer into the waiting area—until that fantasy becomes reality.

Diners standing shoulder-to-shoulder are not only a nuisance but can also hurt business by scaring away potential patrons. The good news is, crowding can be eased. Bill Aumiller, a longtime restaurant designer, offers some remedies for congested waiting areas:

Use Technology
A mobile wait-list app or software sends diners a text when the table is ready, allowing them to leave the premises.  

Spread Out
Free floor space by lining guests alongside a wall. New construction concepts, especially fast casuals like Pei Wei Asian Diner and Smashburger, design space that queues customers into a line hugging a wall.

Hit the Bar
Bars encourage instant turnover when diners end up eating there rather than waiting for the dining room. 

Make a Ledge
Construct a narrow ridge along a wall or a stand-alone one in the center of the waiting area like Toro Bravo in Portland, Ore. Diners can order easy-to-eat appetizers and drinks, reducing dining times and increasing table turns.

Put Diners to Work 
Give waiting diners a menu to peruse, and if the concept allows, pen and paper to jot down their orders. Diners who are ready to order will cut the wait and turn tables faster.

Do Double Duty
New construction should consider a takeout area that also serves as a waiting area, much like Del Frisco’s in New York or Sullivan’s Steakhouse in Austin, Texas.

Take Out a Table
Waiting areas are often cramped due to extra tables aimed at increasing revenue. While an extra table can increase sales, it may also alienate diners who write off a congested entrance as a long wait.