Don’t Open Your Next Casual Eatery or Fast-Food Restaurant Before Reading This

Posted on October 24, 2018 by Bud Morris

Don’t Open Your Next Casual Eatery or Fast-Food Restaurant Before Reading This

Posted on October 24, 2018 by Bud Morris

You might think expanding your food and beverage business is about repeating your past success, but in reality it’s a whole different game. Follow these 3 essential rules for designing your next limited-service restaurant location.

So your food and beverage business is doing great, and you’re planning expansion to another location (or three). It’s an exciting opportunity to share your concept with more people in new communities. While it’s clear that running a multi-location operation is an entirely different experience to a standalone location, it’s equally important that you take a new approach to designing your limited-service restaurant spaces.

Whether you run a fast food, fast casual, and casual dining restaurant concept, well-designed environments are key to winning over customers. Famous brands like Starbucks have redefined the limited-service category with their premium furnishings and ambiance. Everything matters in design: from your colours to music choices, it all has an effect on customer psychology, so your experience should delight the senses (and we mean more than just taste).

So don’t ignore this free advice from a retail-environment design professional. Follow these three rules for designing amazing experiences that turn passers-by into frequent patrons and regular customers — at your current and future locations.

Rule #1: Design for scalability  — from the very start

Whether it’s a chain, franchise or unique concept, every food and beverage business is built on quality of food, atmosphere, and service. With all three, scalability should always be a key consideration. For our clients, expanding with consistency from one location to the next is a top priority — not just strategically, but in planning, design, and building as well.

Food trends come and go, your menu will evolve, and you can change up your decor — but your core design elements should prioritize creating an operational layout first. When designing a new restaurant, think about your core menu offerings, your production flow, and expected turnover, then build up your environment around these components. You want to have a design, floor plan, and build plan you can execute flawlessly every time while adapting to specific locations accordingly.

Every element within your space contributes to your brand and atmosphere: bespoke lighting, sturdy tables, comfortable chairs, we could go on… and each needs to be carefully considered and well built to heighten customers’ enjoyment.

Above all, branding must be absolutely clear so customers have an understanding of (and attraction to) your concept from the moment they step inside. You can see this play out in the recent popularity of ‘fresh food’ concepts, where branding is especially focused on the product. Creating a replicable design takes into account the smallest of elements that are often overlooked: from the placement of menu boards to waste bins, and the styling of beverage stations and washrooms.

Rule #2: Plan from back-to-front

Why start from the back door forwards? One of the most critical restaurant planning mistakes is over-allocating space to your entry or dining areas at the expense of your kitchen.

Taking a back-of-house to front-of-house design approach ensures that you concentrate on operations first. Begin by allocating space to your kitchen and dining areas — a 40/60 split is standard, but varies based on the dining concept. Now work from the very back, considering where your food deliveries will arrive and where ingredients are stored and processed. Next, plan your way forward according to how dishes are completed, served, and enjoyed.

Don’t underestimate the practical approach — it not only ensures operational workflow is taken into account, but also the flow of customers, from entry to queuing and seating. Here’s a detailed breakdown of planning every square foot before branding comes into play:

The kitchen.

It’s at the heart of your business, so don’t shortchange this area. Plan both the kitchen and service spaces for maximum efficiency, down to the specific equipment needed and where it will go. In your floor plan, also aim to place washrooms nearby, which will allow them to share plumbing and water lines with the kitchen.

The dining area.

Here’s where both branding and the needs of your customers come into play. Start here by checking in with your local building permit office about the occupancy and accessibility guidelines for your space. Offer adequate seating and make the most of your layout by using a mix of seating types.

Restaurant floor plan space planning – table and chair spacing

UnitSpace between each
Occupied chairs18-20 inches
Tables set in parallel42-60 inches between sides
Tables set on a diagonal24-30 inches between corners


In small footprints, a counter-service area adds extra seating while doubling as a waiting area. Does the location have a patio? Space planning is equally important there, so make sure your concept works with your outdoor areas and everything flows together.

Once you take traffic flow into account and establish your seating plan, you can incorporate your branding into design. Colours, materials, textiles, and finishes all strengthen the visual and tactile experience.

Order/pickup counter.

This is a space where your use of technology can play a major role in design. Plan this area with consideration for customer convenience, which should include prepaid orders from mobile ordering and delivery apps.

Entry/waiting area.

The space for your welcome and greeting experience is where you’ll most strongly communicate your menu and concept to customers. During peak times, the environment should keep them intrigued enough to stay in line, and comfortable while waiting for their meals.


Last in your space planning but not least in importance, your display windows and signage serve as your customer’s first taste of (and the billboard for) your restaurant experience.

Rule #3: Know where you can mis-spend

Overspending on location size.

Don’t lease a bigger space than you really need. Restaurants are shrinking in size, and you have the opportunity to be creative with your footprint.

Under-spending on storage.

When planning your kitchen, never underestimate the need for storage. So plan to go up, instead of out, to maximize your footprint.  Even if you don’t think you’ll need extra storage space, add it in where there’s room — you won’t regret it in the future.

Overspending on service areas.

Don’t “put lipstick on a pig” — that is, don’t beautify what doesn’t need to be polished. While open kitchens are popular these days, we don’t want to see the sink full of dishes. Same goes for the kitchen floor, prep area and other potential messes — so keep those hidden from your customers’ view.

Under-spending on signage.

Many businesses don’t make their concept evident from the exterior design and signage. You should clearly communicate your brand and offering so you don’t miss out on potential revenue. Walk by your new space like your visitors would to see what kind of signage will work best, which should also include an exterior menu. For your interior, make use of directional signage to orient visitors in your space, helping them find the checkout counter, washrooms and other important areas.

We support the entire restaurant design-build process

As you expand and grow your business, you have the opportunity to create an atmosphere that represents everything you and your food stands for, and everything that makes your concept unique.

To make the most of your brand and space, we design to your aspirations and expected customer experience as well as your footprint and business growth. Future-proof your food and beverage business with a team who’s willing to do whatever it takes. Give us a call at 905-264-0917 or contact us.

Are these 3 key challenges keeping you from scaling successfully?

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At CBSF, we know what it takes to scale from 3 stores to 50 (and beyond). But there are common challenges that all retailers face which keep many from scaling successfully. We want to help you execute on your plans to scale, using our years of expertise and knowledge to do so. Discover what holds retailers back from scaling and what you do can do avoid those same pitfalls. Download “The 3 Challenges All Retailers Face While Scaling” here.