How to Maximize Your Outdoor Restaurant Seating

Outdoor restaurant dining table

| Jun 14, 2023

Customer service and high-quality food are critical for a successful restaurant. And if you have outdoor seating available, the seating arrangement is another essential component because restaurant seating largely contributes to the overall guest experience. 

An effective outdoor seating system helps your staff serve customers more efficiently. As a result, guests are more likely to return to your establishment or leave a positive review. So, how can you optimize your outdoor restaurant seating to increase customer satisfaction? Continue reading for some helpful tips.

Table of Contents:

Types of Outdoor Restaurant Seating

Outdoor dining areas are an incredible restaurant perk, allowing guests to enjoy their meals in the fresh air. You will need durable, weather-resistant tables and chairs if your restaurant has an outdoor patio space or deck. Materials like aluminum, cast aluminum, wood and recycled plastic are common choices for outdoor furniture. They are solid and sturdy enough to withstand the elements, yet lightweight and movable. You can also add heavy-duty commercial patio umbrellas to make the outdoor area even more comfortable for guests. 

Many restaurants offer multiple types of tables and chairs to suit different group sizes and preferences. Let’s look at some common restaurant seating types to include in your outdoor patio space.

1. Two- and Four-Person Tables

Two- and four-person tables are standard seating options in casual dining and fast-food establishments. As the name suggests, they are typically on the smaller side and work perfectly for small families or groups of friends. 

These tables typically have two components — a pedestal-style base and a tabletop. The tabletop can be round, square or rectangular. It can come in various finishes, such as wood, laminate, granite or resin. The base is often made of aluminum, steel or cast iron.

2. Family Dining Tables

Family-sized dining tables generally accommodate between eight and 10 guests and are often rectangular. Naturally, they are more suited to larger parties. As with two- to four-person tables, these tables come in many finishes. You will often find them in family-style dining restaurants and banquet areas. You can place large family dining tables outside so that larger parties can also enjoy the outdoors while they eat. 

3. Bar-Height Tables

Outdoor bar-height or high-top tables are taller than standard dining tables so that guests can eat and drink without stooping down. They are typically found in pubs and sports bars. Bar-height tables usually have square or round tops. They are often paired with bar stools, which often have footrests toward the bottom. The stool should be the appropriate height to accommodate the tabletop. If your restaurant has an outdoor bar, you can skip the tables and add stools to the bar area for guests to sit. 

4. Booths

Booths have tabletops secured to walls and bench seats on both sides. If your outdoor area is fenced in, you can add booths to its perimeter. This can help you save space and reduce traffic. Outdoor booths offer more privacy than regular outdoor table sets, creating a comfortable, intimate dining space for guests. 

5. Picnic Tables

Commercial picnic tables are ideal for a casual, relaxed outdoor dining area. Picnic tables come in numerous colors, sizes and tabletop shapes — such as round, square and rectangular — making it easy to find options for your desired aesthetic.

11 Tips to Maximize Restaurant Seating

Various strategies can help you streamline your outdoor restaurant seating system, such as:

  • Numbering and tracking tables.
  • Improving your reservation system.
  • Using all available space.
  • Making your restaurant more accessible.
  • Familiarizing your staff with restaurant seating protocols.

Browse the tips below to learn more about building and refining your outdoor restaurant seating arrangement.

1. Create a Floor Plan and Use All Available Space

Creating a floor plan for your outdoor space can be as simple as sketching seating arrangements or using specialized computer software to generate different layouts. However, you still want to dedicate enough time to it. Take plenty of time to consider the number and types of tables needed.

Try to integrate a mix of seating types — including two- to four-person tables, family-sized tables, bar-height tables and picnic tables — to accommodate different group sizes and seating preferences. Create and test out different arrangements to see what meshes with your outdoor space.

Arrange tables and chairs to enable maximum seating capacity. Use all available restaurant space, including corners. Try to space tables and chairs as close together as possible while still providing ample travel room.

Bar stools and other portable chairs can provide additional seating when all tables are full. You can place these near the counter or bar area.

2. Prioritize Accessibility

When planning your layout, remember that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires 5% of any restaurant tables attached to the floor or wall to be wheelchair-accessible. You can use movable chairs for these tables. That way, you can remove them to accommodate customers using wheelchairs. This guideline still applies to outdoor eating areas.

3. Number and Track Tables

If you don’t already do so, numbering your tables can help you and your employees keep track of where guests are seated. Tracking where your diners are sitting can help you optimize your system.

For instance, say one section has multiple parties beginning their meal while a handful of groups in a different section are finishing up. That indicates you should send the next stream of guests to the latter section. You can turn tables faster and avoid overwhelming your staff. In turn, they can provide more efficient and personalized service to their tables.

The last thing you want is to overbook yourself and turn away diners or receive customer complaints about sidetracked servers. Using a system to track table statuses lets you plan accordingly and better serve your staff and guests.

4. Communicate With Your Staff

Communication is key to optimizing your outdoor restaurant seating and operations. Your staff should be familiar with seating protocols and always know which tables are open. Let your team know when you make changes to your seating system or policy, providing additional training if necessary.

5. Optimize Your Reservation System

Optimize your reservation system — if you have one — to avoid wasting time or seating. For instance, it wouldn’t be practical to seat a party of two at a table meant for a larger group. This leaves empty seats that other diners could have had.

Optimizing your reservations optimizes your seating. Customers can reserve tables through a mobile app, your website or Google. You’ll receive real-time notifications, allowing you and your staff to prepare accordingly for larger parties. Additionally, remind guests of their reservations a day or two in advance. This helps ensure they show up on time.

Better yet, many reservation platforms send out automated reminders so you don’t have to. Guests can receive emails, text messages or Google Calendar event reminders about their reservations. Reminding guests of their reservations reduces the chance of no-shows, empty tables and lost profits.

6. Provide Backup Reservation Options

There may be instances where a guest goes to reserve a table at your restaurant but their desired date and time aren’t available. However, you could have a cancellation or no-show later on that opens up a table. Additionally, your other restaurant locations — if you have them — could have availability.

Rather than letting them walk away after being unable to make a reservation, present them with some alternative options, such as:

  • Getting their name and contact information to prioritize them for a future table.
  • Promoting your other locations if their requested time slot is available there.
  • Offering the option of adding them to a waiting list in case their requested date and time becomes available.

7. Offer Walk-Ins and Keep a Waiting List

Allowing walk-ins helps you fill up empty tables. While walk-in customers may experience longer waiting times on busy nights than those with reservations — especially for a coveted outdoor spot — you won’t have to turn anyone away since it’s first come, first served.

Additionally, keeping a waiting list comes in handy when your restaurant is jam-packed with customers. When a walk-in guest arrives, you can give them an expected wait time, add their name and contact information to the list, then let them know when their table is ready.

A waiting list keeps things moving and gives everyone a chance to eat, regardless of whether they made a reservation. You can also avoid complaints about long wait times since customers are made aware beforehand.

8. Let Guests Choose Their Seating

Let diners choose where they’d like to sit if you have the space. People have different preferences when it comes to seating. One might prefer an outdoor booth, while another might want a standard table. Letting them choose when you can allows them to sit where they are most comfortable, improving their overall dining experience. Remember — only offer this option when you can. 

Aside from giving guests a table preference, try to be flexible with seating in general. There will be instances where guests arrive late or need to leave early. Try to accommodate these situations whenever you can — chances are, your customers will appreciate it.

If you know a regular guest prefers to sit in a specific area or different groups like to be seated together, note these preferences. Offering personalized service and accommodating guests’ requests whenever possible goes a long way.

9. Choose Easy-to-Move Tables and Seating

It’s important to be flexible when designing your outdoor dining space. Multifunctional outdoor seating accommodates more diners and space requirements. Lightweight, movable furniture allows you to reconfigure the dining space for large groups, private events or multiple small parties as needed.

If you host special events in your outdoor dining area, like live music or trivia nights, you’ll likely need to move furniture around. Permanently securing tables and chairs to the ground may be an effective security measure, but it can present complications when you need to move or swap them out.

While you should try to stick to a consistent seating system, you never know when you’ll have to move tables or chairs around. For this reason, it’s best to use lightweight, stackable and portable — yet durable — furniture. Here are some examples:

  • Aluminum: Aluminum furniture is durable and cost-effective. Cast aluminum is slightly heavier than regular aluminum, but both are easy to move.
  • Recycled plastic: Lightweight, low-maintenance and eco-friendly, recycled plastic is an excellent furniture material for outdoor restaurant spaces. It comes in many colors and can mimic other materials, such as wood and steel. It resists warping, cracking, fading and rotting without sacrificing comfort. You can find recycled plastic furniture in many colors and patterns to match your restaurant’s design concept.
  • Wood: Besides being easy to move and rearrange, wood furniture can offer years of comfort and durability with proper maintenance. Just remember that certain woods are better for indoor restaurant spaces, while others are suitable for outdoor patios. Hardwoods like mahogany, teak and Brazilian walnut are great options for outdoor tables and chairs, effectively resisting sun, heat and moisture. Softwoods like pine and cedar might be better for indoor restaurant seating.

10. Gather Feedback

Collecting feedback from staff and guests can help you determine whether your current seating arrangement is working. Consider creating a closed feedback loop for guests to fill out after visiting your restaurant. Here are some questions you might ask:

  • Are any tables too close to each other?
  • Is there enough traveling room in the aisles?
  • Are any tables too close to restrooms or doors?
  • Are any tables too close to trash receptacles?

Your customers’ answers to these questions can give you insight into your seating and allow to you make adjustments accordingly. Besides your restaurant’s seating and layout, give them a chance to provide feedback on the food and service, as well. Getting feedback right away lets you address any complaints immediately. That way, you don’t have to read about them in an online review.

Your staff should also have access to guests’ feedback through your restaurant’s customer relationship management (CRM) platform. They can use these insights to improve their service and guests’ dining experiences.

Additionally, let your employees offer feedback on seating and table arrangements. They may have suggestions regarding ways to improve them.

11. Make Changes as Needed

Finally, it’s important to keep an open mind regarding your restaurant seating. If a particular arrangement isn’t working or you find an opportunity to improve something, don’t hesitate to change things up. Use staff and guest feedback to guide you in making these changes.

Remember that a perfect outdoor seating arrangement won’t happen overnight — it will probably take some trial and error to build an effective routine. However, with patience and persistence, you will continue improving your seating system to better meet employees’ and guests’ expectations.

Ways to Enhance an Outdoor Restaurant Area

To promote your restaurant patio design or outside seating area, try:

1. Adding plants and green spaces

Research finds that plants can enhance our sense of well-being and perception of space. There’s a strong movement trending to bring more plants into the restaurant scene — whether in the form of small flower pots or wall-to-wall leaves. Showcase healthy greenery with tree grates or planter accessories for added flair. Or, complement the color schemes of your outdoor restaurant patio design with brightly colored commercial planters.

2. Accommodating various climates

No matter how much planning goes into your restaurant’s outdoor seating area, the weather remains an unpredictable force. Accommodate all types of elements by setting up dining sets with umbrellas to shade visitors from the sun, or an awning to block the rain.

3. Promoting art from local artists

Highlighting your city or town’s local artists helps show your commitment to the local community and inspires those customers to visit. Decorate your restaurant’s indoor or outdoor patio walls with art from local artists and celebrate the local culture that surrounds your establishment.

4. Setting up a speaker system

Music plays an essential role in attracting and retaining visitors to your outdoor restaurant. Arranging a speaker system that reaches customers outdoors or hiring live entertainment can go a long way in increasing revenue.

5. Establishing separate waiting and ordering areas

More and more restaurants are opting for delivery services like Grubhub and Uber Eats that cater to individuals beyond their restaurant’s physical space. To decrease the congestion and commotion delivery drivers may create, setting up a separate area for guests to wait for a table is a must. Decorate your outside seating area with an attractive shelter to keep restaurant guests comfortable as they wait to be seated — and out of the way of the traffic created by delivery staff.

Increase Indoor & Outdoor Restaurant Seating With Wabash Valley Site Furnishings

If you are looking to furnish your outdoor restaurant area with quality tables and seating, turn to Wabash Valley Site Furnishings. We have a variety of outdoor restaurant furnishings available, including picnic tables, chairs and benches, litter receptacles, patio umbrellas, and more.

Our ADA-accessible, commercial outdoor furniture comes in a range of styles, colors, and finishes to fit your preferences. Whether you are furnishing a large outdoor area or only require one or two pieces, we can deliver the quality solutions your establishment needs. To make the process easier, we also offer hassle-free installation services by licensed site furnishing experts.

Choose Wabash Valley Furnishings for functional, durable, and high-end products. We invite you to check out our inventory of outdoor restaurant furniture and place an order today.