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Layout and Design Tips for Large Space Restaurants

So you’ve secured a space for your new restaurant and are so excited for what lies ahead. The realtor hands over the keys and you place them into the lock and turn. You feel the doors give and excitedly push them open to behold your new space in all its glory. It’s beautiful, it’s magnificent, it’s… really big.

You begin to get nervous. The space didn’t look so big the first time you looked at it when it had furniture. It’s a lot of space. What if you bit off more than you can chew? You don’t want customers to walk in the door and think the place looks empty. Don’t worry. With a few changes, you can make your large space a comfy eatery filled with customers in no time.

Planning

Making sure you make the most of your space starts at the beginning. When you start designing your layout you need to ask yourself a few questions. The first question is how much space you want to allocate for the kitchen and dining areas.  The Evans Group, an award winning design firm based out of Orlando, Florida recommends saving at least 1/3 of the space for the kitchen and 2/3 for the dining area. Since you have a good amount of room to work with, if you want to play around with those numbers, go for it. A 40% kitchen and 60% dining room is still a good split but allows for extra staff space.

Now that you know how much space is needed for the kitchen consider where you want to place it. More and more restaurants with ample amounts of space are placing their kitchen in the center of the dining area for all to see. An open layout allows customers to view exactly what is going on in the kitchen, satisfying their curiosity and hygiene concerns. Doing so also helps to make your large space seem more intimate and cozy. With a significant portion of the room being used for the kitchen and the tables being placed around it the layout feels closer to something a diner might experience at home.

If an open kitchen doesn’t fit your taste that is fine too. Once you have an idea of where your kitchen is going, the next question you need to consider is how many rooms you need. To make it feel more intimate consider dividing part of your space into a private dining area. You can market to local businesses looking for a meeting space or offer a quieter dining experience to groups celebrating a special occasion. Who doesn’t like the opportunity for more profit as well as a way to break up the room?

Private dining areas also lend themselves well to customization. Because it is a separate area, the room can change to have a completely different vibe than the rest of the restaurant. This opens your restaurant up to catering to different markets you might not have been able to reach before.

Not ready to commit to building a private dining area? To test it out owners can purchase temporary dividers to create an intimate space even in a large room. Once the event is over the barriers can be removed and -voilá- the room is back to its original size.

Furniture

Now that a rough layout is starting to take shape it is time to consider your furniture. Since there is a lot of space to work with you can have fun with bulkier pieces if you like. Chairs and bar stools with arms are great at providing a way to add comfort for your guest and to take up a little more space to make the area visually appealing.
Sticking to tables and chairs is also a great way to fill your restaurant. While booths may seem bigger, they are actually space savers in the way they allow more people to fit around a table. Table and chair sets also offer a flexibility that booths don’t. If you need to move things around to accommodate larger groups you’ll have no problems.

When considering what table tops to purchase, take a look at round tables if you are looking to use up more area. Not only do they take up a large amount of space but are more conducive for conversation. Additionally, they are less formal and more homey-style to give your large room additional comfort.

Something to keep in mind when selecting furniture is how much square feet you want to allot per customer. According to the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers (NAFEM), the chart below shows the average allotted square feet per customer by service type.

Type of OperationSpace Allowance Per Seat (SQ. FT.)
School Lunchroom/Cafeteria9-12
Banquet Room10-11
Table Service11-14
College or Business and Industry Cafeteria12-15
Table Service at a Hotel, Club, or Restaurant15-18
Commercial Cafeteria16-18
Counter Service Restaurant 18-20

Between tables and chairs, you’ll need a passage area of 18”. However, you might want to consider wider aisles of at least 36” to accommodate wheelchairs in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Handicap accessible restaurant furniture needs to make up at least 5% of your furniture, according to their regulations.

When planning your furniture layout also consider your restaurant’s needs. Fine dining restaurants need enough room for meal carts; while family-style restaurants may use bussing carts to clear tables. Both need enough space to easily move around the dining room.

Entryway

With so much space to experiment with, owners can use furniture to create a statement area in their entryway. Good flow is crucial to any entryway but feel free to explore your options with larger furniture, as long as you aren’t blocking doors. Nice padded chairs and couches could be a great option for buildings with room to spare. Creating a comfortable waiting area also helps in terms of customer’s overall experience; you want them happy when they arrive at their table. Uncomfortable chairs are not too conducive to happy customers.

Another way to utilize some of that space is by using an interesting hostess or POS (Point of sale) station. Other than helping your staff to stay organized, a unique piece at the front of your restaurant can really set the tone for what your customers can expect based upon your décor. A reclaimed POS station at a gastropub says one thing like we have great burgers to go with our beers, while a sleek modern hostess stand at a breakfast spot says more along the lines of our specialty bacon is to die for.

Décor

If the walls are bare, with sparse décor they will be expecting a different experience than they would in a room with décor that flows and furniture that makes the room complete. With a big open space, the view can be monotonous if you aren’t careful. A great way to add some interest is by adding strong textures.

Expansive walls make great blank canvases. A mural is one way to create visual intrigue for customers as well as a way to share a little bit more about your business and your vision. The options for subjects are endless. If you can find a local artist you can work together to create a masterpiece that says exactly what you want it to.

If a mural seems to be a little too in your face for the atmosphere you want, think about adding interesting floor patterns. It isn’t as dramatic as a mural but has a similar effect in breaking up the monotony of a big dining room. Many different types of materials can be used in flooring. Whether you want a herringbone pattern in your wood floor, or interesting color and texture in your concrete floor, adding some interest to your flooring can be a unique way to break up the room.

Lighting

When thinking about how to decorate your building it can be easy to just slap some lights on the walls and call it a day. Lights obviously have a function but are also an area where function and design can go hand in hand. By taking your lights and hanging them from the ceilings it makes the ceilings appear closer and not as tall, making the room feel smaller and more intimate. As a bonus, interesting lighting fixtures can be a great conversation starter and help to make your restaurant stand out from others that might be looking to serve the same demographic.

Conclusion

If you have a restaurant in a large space and are having problems with flow and visual balance, take a look at your layout and design. You might not have the right furniture or decor for your area, causing your dining area to look empty and uncomfortable; potentially costing you customers. Through planning, layout, and some creative experimentation, a large space can be adjusted to play to its strengths and give customers the comfortable experience they are looking for while having plenty of workflow.

How Do I Clean My Restaurant Table Tops? FAQs from the Files of East Coast Chair & Barstool

Cleaning table tops

Restaurant furniture is built tough. The wear and tear that commercial furniture has to endure is far greater than the six chairs and table in your dining room. Because of this heavy usage, commercial furniture also comes with a responsibility. These pieces need to be maintained and properly taken care of to last to their full lifespan. We’ve put together this short guide to help restaurant owners learn a little more about cleaning their table tops.

Laminate table tops should be cleaned with warm water and soap (or detergent) mixture each day and dried with a soft cloth. Spills should be wiped up quickly to avoid further harm to the table. A combination of mild cleaner and baking soda can be used to remove stains from the surface with a stiff nylon brush.

Resin table tops should be cleaned daily with warm water and a mild detergent. Because of the texture of the table, resin tops should not be used with tableware that has unglazed bottoms. To remove scratches, use a toothpaste and car buffer or toothbrush to even out your table top.

Wood table tops can be maintained with mild soap and water. Whether it’s reclaimed, urban distressed, or butcher block tables, harsh cleaners and chemicals should not be used on these tops. These chemicals can harm your wood grain and create a gummy film on your table tops.

IsoTop and Werzalit table tops can be used indoors or outdoors and have a very similar cleaning procedure to other table tops. Soap and water can be used to wipe these tops down between uses. If being used on a patio, IsoTops can also be hosed down with other outdoor furniture.

Poly lumber table tops are very easy to maintain with soap and water. To remove leaf stains and other environmental elements, a wet Magic Eraser can work wonders to buff out the stain. These tops can even withstand a gentle pressure wash.

Stainless steel table tops should be cleaned with soap and water and then dried off as soon as possible. These tables should not be exposed to constant moisture, which can ruin the silicone seal around the edges. Taking proper care of these tops can provide multiple years of seasonal use.

Table top maintenance should be an everyday chore for you and your staff. By taking the time to upkeep your restaurant furniture, it can save you time and money in the future.

6 Steps You Must Take To Survive a Restaurant Recession

An empty restaurant.

If you’ve watched the news or read anything about the restaurant industry lately, then you’ve probably heard about the restaurant slowdown, dare we say recession, that all of the pundits are predicting.  Whether those recession fears are overblown or not, one can’t ignore the negative commentary coming from some of the industry’s biggest corporations talking about slowing sales and lower traffic year over year.

2016 has seen the separation of definite winners and losers in the hospitality industry.  Some restaurants like Panera, Papa John’s, and Texas Roadhouse are still killing it, while others like Yum! Brands, Ruby Tuesday’s, and Smokey Bones have taken a beating.  Some have even gone out of business.   The year 2016 has seen numerous restaurant bankruptcies from once successful concepts like Cosi, Quaker Steak & Lube, HomeTown Buffet, and Johnny Carinos.

 

What is causing the restaurant downturn?

The Natural Business Cycle

The restaurant industry has seen tremendous growth since the turn of the century.  Over the past 16 years, restaurant food and drink sales have more than doubled from $379 billion in 2000 to an estimated $782 billion in 2016, which represents an approximate 6.5% annual growth rate.  The growth is even more impressive when you realize that in 1970, restaurant sales were only $42.8 billion.  This success has prompted more and more competitors to enter the marketplace.  In fact, according to the National Restaurant Association, there are more than one million restaurant locations in the United States, or 1 restaurant for every 319 people.

While the growth trend may continue, every industry is subject to the ups and downs of the business cycle, so it is normal to have some years of negative growth.

Falling Grocery Prices

As of September 2016, the price of groceries had dropped for 9 straight months, a phenomenon that almost never happens without a general economic recession.  In some places, grocery prices have dropped as much as 5% over the past year.

When grocery prices decline, more consumers see the value in cooking at home vs. eating out; this is particularly true when restaurant menu prices don’t keep up with the decline.  In this cycle, as grocery prices have declined, restaurant menu prices have stayed steady, or even increased, prompting more people to cook at home.

Changing Demographics

According to the Wall Street Journal consumers aged 18-35 make fewer than 50 trips to restaurants each year.  Compare this to the 75-80+ times per year that the average American eats out (stats do not include pickup or fast food), and you can see that the demographics are definitely not in favor of continued growth.

Innovative Grocery Startups

New innovators in the grocery delivery space like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh are making it easier for consumers to cook restaurant quality meals at home, at a reasonable price.  For example, meals at Blue Apron cost between $8.75 and $9.99 per meal compared to an average cost of $39.40 per meal at a restaurant.

Politics

It’s hard to quantify how much consumer spending lags in an election year, however many corporate restaurant CEO’s have come out in the past few months and blamed election uncertainty for slowing same store sales growth.  Whether the election is being used as a scapegoat or not is hard to tell, but now that it is behind us, politics should be less of a factor in 2017.

Rising Costs

As if all the factors affecting growth in the industry aren’t bad enough, many restaurants also have to deal with rising labor costs in the form of wage pressure and healthcare costs under the Affordable Care Act.

 

6 Keys to Survival?

Have a hook

The days of offering “ok” food at an “ok” price and succeeding are over; there’s simply too much competition to operate a middle of the road establishment.  Sure, good food is a must, you can’t survive long without it; but, in this day and age, you’ve also got to have a hook.  In business, a hook is known as a competitive advantage: something that you do better than any of your competitors.    If your food is the best around for your genre, then that IS the hook.  However, if your food is just mediocre, then you better start looking for something else to bring customers through your door.  The hook doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive; it could be as simple as an innovative sandwich (Primanti Brothers), a large menu (Cheesecake Factory), top notch customer service (Chick-fil-A), or a focus on your local neighborhood (Applebees).

Ideally, your competitive advantage will be something that is not easily replicable by competitors.  For example, while something as simple as free Wi-Fi can give you a short term competitive advantage in an area where it is not widely available, it’s not likely to last long once your competitors catch on and start to offer the same thing.

Be proactive about your finances

One of the key takeaways from this year’s NRA Show Keynote Session between Jon Taffer and Robert Irvine was that far too many restaurant owners are totally unaware of their finances.  They let a book keeper focus on the accounting, while they focus on the food, staff, and atmosphere.  That may work ok in times of fast growth and easy money, but it can really hurt your restaurant when the going gets tough.

The problem with not knowing your finances is that you can’t see potential trouble coming until it’s too late; you are forced to react to bad situations instead of being proactive and taking action to avoid them altogether.  For example, if you don’t look at your food costs on a regular basis, then you might not realize that certain foods are rising in price, and you will be serving dishes that are no longer as profitable as they once were.

While we’re on the topic of being proactive with your finances, there are two other things that you need to do before the next recession.  First, make sure that you stock away some extra “rainy day” capital when times are good.  Second, build a relationship with your banks commercial lending officer and open a line of credit as a backup source of funding should you ever need it.  If your profitability ever falls off a cliff for a couple of months, these should provide quick access to cash if you need it.

Maximize your free advertising

What is the first budgetary item to take a hit when business is slow or your restaurant is losing money?  If you’re like most restaurant owners, then the answer is probably advertising and marketing.  It makes sense that this is where many owners choose to cut; if the choice comes down to firing staff or not running that 30 second TV spot next month, then many small business owners would choose the latter.  Nevertheless, advertising during a recession is precisely what a restaurant must do to stay at the top of consumers’ minds and try to steal market share away from competitors.  Fortunately, thanks to the internet and social media, there are ways to promote your business that cost next to nothing, at least in terms of dollars.

We are lucky to live in a time in modern history where creativity and ingenuity can actually outperform advertising dollars.  So put on your thinking cap, and figure out a way to get your name out there.  If you have a great story to tell, call up your local papers and ask them to write about it.  If you are offering something special, make sure that all of your social media followers (I’m assuming you utilize social media at this point) know about it.  Take that 30 second TV spot that you were planning and plaster it on YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter.  Whatever it takes to get your name out there, do it.  A downturn is the perfect time for a little Guerilla Marketing.   Unleash your inner PT Barnum and market the hell out of your business, because it may be the thing that keeps the lights on until business picks back up.

Try to renegotiate your lease when the time is right

This one is tricky.  Landlords obviously don’t want to renegotiate a lease contract lower because they have you locked in (and may have you personally on the hook).  But, it isn’t impossible.  The one thing that landlords hate more than renegotiating lease space is vacancy.  If there isn’t a lot of competition in your area, or if the number of commercial real estate vacancies are rising, then you have some power to renegotiate, particularly if the alternative is going out of business and/or filing for bankruptcy.  Ask your landlord for a temporary rent reduction first.  If that doesn’t work, try to negotiate a reduction or partial deferral in exchange for a longer lease term.

Offer loyalty programs

One of the most important things you can do to survive a recession is to retain your current customers.  Did you know that it costs 500% more to acquire a new customer than to retain a current one?  How about that 81% of consumers surveyed said that they are more likely to continue doing business with brands that offer a loyalty program.  Knowing this, offering a loyalty program becomes almost a no-brainer.  If you can’t keep your current customers coming in the door, then it is going to cost you 5 times as much to acquire new customers.  Start a program that lets customers get something for free, or at least a percentage off, for every x number of times that they dine at your restaurant.  Sure, it’s going to impact your bottom line, so make sure that your margins are robust enough to handle the hit and make it up in increased volume.  It could be the difference between customers choosing your restaurant or the place down the street.

Stay positive

If you’ve been in management for any length of time, then you know that employees tend to mimic the attitudes of their bosses.  If you, as an owner or general manager are constantly showing worry, then employees will feed off of that attitude, which can create a negative customer experiences.  Likewise, if you let your worries make you irritable or moody, then employees will pick up that and will start to act in kind.

The hardest thing in the world to do is to keep a smile on your face when you don’t know if you’re going to make next month’s payroll, but it is necessary to keep your culture positive and keep employees motivated.  By no means are we advocating that you lie or hide the truth from them.  Let them know where the business stands, and give them all of the facts.  But, attitude is everything, and as the captain of the ship, yours is the most important in the whole organization.  Approach every downturn as an opportunity to innovate and improve your restaurant in anticipation of better times.  Get employees involved and make them feel ownership.  You might be surprised when the best idea to lower costs or retain customers comes from them.

Every business has its ups and downs, and the restaurant industry is no different.  We have enjoyed a long stretch of growth and good times, where the rising tide of demographics and changing social norms has lifted all boats.  Hopefully, that trend will continue, and this short lived down trend will end as quickly as it began.  If it doesn’t, however, following the tips above can help you to weather the storm and emerge from the other side in a better position than ever.

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Restaurant Furniture Trends by State

Restaurant trends run far and wide all over the United States. Some businesses are focused on speed and efficiency while others are more concerned with a customer’s experience. Needless to say, in some shape or form, these businesses need a type of furniture that represents their company and their brand.

Here at East Coast Chair & Barstool, we help restaurants, bars, and the hospitality industry find their perfect furniture that embodies their business and atmosphere. With such a diverse customer base, we wanted to show what has been our most popular furniture items by state in the past year.

1) GLADIATOR Ladder Back Chair and Bar Stool

A durable and simple shape to complement many types of interiors.

2) GLADIATOR Full Ladder Back Chair and Bar Stool

The full ladder back offers even more shape to the contours of your guests.

3) GLADIATOR Full Vertical Back Wooden Chair

An elegant wooden chair with slimming vertical back design.

4) Henry Chair and Bar Stool

A marriage of wood and metal that make for a distinguished look.

5) GLADIATOR Window Pane Chair and Bar Stool

The same sturdy frame of the GLADIATOR Collection with the stylish window pane back.

6) Cayman Side Chair

A distinguished outdoor chair to instantly ramp up curb appeal.

7) Shipyard Backless Bar Stool

Brushed aluminum gives this bar stool a streamlined appearance for your outdoor patio.

8) Simon Bar Stool

Bring a clean-cut, modern look to your restaurant with this bar stool.

9) GLADIATOR 825 Bucket Bar Stool

Our newest bucket seat offers ergonomic seat and back support with premium molded foam.

10) Gulf Coast Outdoor Chair

We combined poly lumber slats with an aluminum frame that’s easy to maintain on your deck.

11) Viktor Chair

Convey a contemporary feel to your brewery or coffee shop with this industrial style.

You will notice there aren’t many avant-garde furniture styles represented here. While many customers still order them, most focus on classic silhouettes that will blend into any atmosphere with ease.

The GLADIATOR Collection takes up quite a bit of space on this map. We can attribute this to the style’s customization opportunities with various seats and finishes. The GLADIATOR Collection looks great in any kind of restaurant because of their traditional structure.

What’s your state’s most popular item from us? Does your restaurant have similar characteristics to it? Let us know in the comments below.

How Your Restaurant Can Capitalize on the Holiday Season

holiday-season-banner

With all the hustle and bustle of finding gifts and making sure everything is just right, the holiday season is busy for everyone. With your competitors trimming the tree and decking the halls, you’ll want to make sure your restaurant stands out. It’s the time in a year when people are looking to spend some serious money and there are a few things you can do to take advantage of every opportunity to attract them with fresh ideas and bring business to your restaurant. Of course you will do your best to provide memorable experiences for each one of them and strive to get new guests to walk through your doors. But how to do that?

These are a few tips to help you entice customers to venture out of the comfort of their homes this holiday season and bring their holiday spirit into your restaurant.

Thanksgiving

were-openStay Open
Every year more and more people are deciding to dine out for Thanksgiving. The National Restaurant Association predicts that more than 15 million people will eat out for Thanksgiving this year. Consumers don’t want to deal with the hassle of cooking all that food and the massive aftermath of dishes and leftovers. This is where your restaurant can save the day by providing them with a stress free, delicious meal. If you decide staying open on Thanksgiving Day is for you, offer a traditional turkey dinner for the families looking for a home cooked meal without all the trouble.

Takeout Options

If staying closed on Thanksgiving is a priority, but you still want to take advantage of the holiday sales, try offering precooked sides that patrons can pick up a day or two before Thanksgiving. Customers will appreciate not having to cook more than necessary, and you will appreciate their business. They might even decide to make your side a new holiday tradition, and who doesn’t love repeat business? Offering takeout options is a way you can have your pumpkin pie, and eat it too.

chef-counter-bowlsHost a Food Drive

Another option would be to run a food drive. Have a designated area in your waiting area where patrons can donate canned goods for the local food shelter. To bring in even more customers consider offering a discount on food with a nonperishable food donation. Customers will take note of your good deeds and might consider becoming a regular at a business that cares for the community.


Host a Tips from the Chef Night

Another option owners might want to consider is hosting an event before Thanksgiving. Take reservations and on a specific night, serve your guests a Thanksgiving meal. Then once things have calmed down a little and the meals are served, have your Chef visit tables and be available for questions on how to cook that perfect turkey. Most people are intimidated at the thought of cooking a whole turkey themselves so they will appreciate the advice and personal attention. This offers customers not only tips from a professional, but a night out on the town.  Plus such great customer service will have them returning even after the holiday season is over.

 

Christmas

5285326369_3620ae8f34_oDécor

Decorating for the holiday season can really add to the atmosphere in your establishment. White twinkle lights are a simple touch that can bring some magic and wonder to an everyday setup. In addition to traditional decorations take advantage of some of the benefits of alternative designs. The Christmas tree made from champagne glasses decorated with lights, or different colored liquids in them will be an original and attractive decoration in your restaurant. It is also a conversation starter among guests.

Have your decorations ready to go from harvest into a holiday theme. Purchase your decorations ahead of time and then pick a slower day, perhaps during the week, to bring holiday cheer to your restaurant.

Having a cheerful holiday atmosphere could be a deciding factor in whether a business chooses your location to host their holiday party. If would be a shame to miss out on such an opportunity due to decorations.

Also be sure to promote your holiday wonderland on social media. People love to visit locations that have gotten into the holiday spirit and are sure to share their experience. More sharing equals more customers!

7875663010_c31969d2a5_kCatering

If you are looking to add catering to your lineup, now is the time. Many offices are holding holiday parties between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day and are looking for places to accommodate their needs. To meet their needs try to have veggie and vegan meal options available. This is an area that can often be overlooked but can be the difference between getting their business and being passed over.

It is also easier to train new staff for catering. Often people are looking for extra work during the holidays, seasonal workers can help manage the new part of your business through the busy holidays. It also can be helpful to your kitchen staff if you have a special holiday menu. If they have a general idea of what they will be cooking they can better prepare to accommodate the larger groups.

 

Offer Coupons

Do you have regulars who frequent your establishment? Let them know how much you appreciate their business by sending them a holiday card with a coupon inside. For example, a free dessert would be nice way to entice them in the doors and convince them to purchase an entree.

But be cautious, it is important to make sure the card stays a card and does not become an advertisement, as you don’t want to lose the meaning behind the gesture. By placing a coupon in the card it lets your guests know that you appreciate them and encourages return business. While a paper card is heart-warming, many restaurants with email programs can utilize a digital coupon and save on postage.

Another benefit of sending cards is that customers might talk about your card with friends, and word of mouth is the best advertising you can get (especially in the social network age.)

Coupons are also a great way to prepare for the lull that happens after the holiday season. When your staff takes the customer their receipt consider slipping in a few coupons that are good in January through February to encourage continued patronage during those slower months. Not only will they appreciate the gesture but also feel encouraged to return.

Give a Gift

Having gift cards available are a must for the holiday season. Many people are not sure what to purchase for that long lost cousin, or the co-worker they got in the office’s secret Santa. You can be there to offer them this viable option. It also works out great for a restaurant owner. About 72% of people spend more than the value of their gift card when they dine at a restaurant. Try to offer holiday themed cards to catch the eye of your customers.

Offering gift cards is also a great way to get first time visitors in the door and make them lifelong patrons.

Organize a Charity Dinner

5398146515_024b48dfaa_bSpread the holiday spirit by organizing a charity dinner in your restaurant. The holiday season is a time of giving and donations. During this season people are thinking more about others than usual. That’s why it is a great time to organize a charity event. Choose a cause that is close to your heart or your communities and inform people about the event through traditional media and social media. The media will be happy to promote such an event, especially during this time of year. Create a flyer, and use it as part of your restaurant holiday promotion.

Participate in a charity event by offering a certain percentage of the proceeds that night to go to charity. Invite members from the organization you have selected to add a personal touch. They’ll also help to promote your business and the event. You will be helping those in need and building a caring reputation for your restaurant, creating a win-win situation.

The holiday season offers many opportunities for promoting your business and thanking your customers for the wonderful year you’ve had. Don’t miss out because of a lack of planning. It is best to start advertising for these promotions 4-6 weeks in advance. By implementing unique promotions you can help your restaurant stand out from all the other deals going on during the season.

I wish you happy holidays and a bustling restaurant!

What is commercial furniture? FAQs from the Files of East Coast Chair & Barstool

Commercial furniture in a bar

Our sales team often gets asked about the difference is between commercial and residential furniture.  After all, the thinking goes, a chair is a chair and a table is a table, regardless of whether you buy it from a retail location or a commercial dealer.  Unfortunately, that line of thinking is false for a number of reasons.

Despite the fact that some designers and furniture buyers have taken to choosing residential grade furniture for offices, there are significant benefits to choosing commercial quality furnishings for any business in the hospitality industry.

How often do you sit on the dining chairs in your home?  If you’re like most people, the answer is probably an hour or less per day.  Contrast that to restaurants, bars, and other hospitality industry establishments where the furniture is likely to be in use for up to 10-12 hours per day, every day.     Getting ten times, or even more, usage than a typical residential chair means that commercial furniture is subjected to far more stress in its lifetime.  That stress can weaken the integrity of the chair if not properly constructed.  In addition, while you and your family and friends are the only ones sitting on your dining chairs, commercial furniture is used by people of all shapes and sizes.  In fact, most commercial chairs are weight tested up to 350 pounds, and some can accommodate much more.

In most industries, there are differences between commercial and retail equipment, and each is specifically manufactured for that purpose.  For example, a trucking company would never put regular passenger tires on one of its vehicles because their thin walls are not suitable to bear the weight commercial vehicle.  Likewise, a retail customer would not want to put commercial tires on their Ford Focus because the heavy walled tires would produce a jarring, uncomfortable ride.  The same is true of furniture.

The difference between commercial and residential furniture has nothing to do with looks, although residential furniture is often considered more aesthetically pleasing.  Instead, it’s all about construction.  As we said above, commercial furniture has to withstand continuous usage and abuse at the hands of customers and staff.  Because of that, it is built with heavier materials.  Commercial manufacturers typically use 16 or 18 gauge steel is used instead of the 22 or 24 gauge found in retail furniture.  Whereas residential wood furniture is usually made from cheaper, softer woods like rubberwood, commercial grade wood furniture is made from hardwoods like European Beechwood.  Also, fabrics have to be puncture resistant, tear resistant, and stain resistant, which means vinyl vs. leather and acrylic vs cotton.   Finally, commercial furniture has to hold up when customers of all sizes use it, so it also usually has mortise and tenon joinery, and additional bracing.

Commercial furniture can cost more than residential furniture (although not always), but is actually cheaper when you consider cost per use.  As we mentioned above, commercial furniture can easily get 10 times or more usage than residential furniture, but it often costs only 2-3 times as much, making it very cost effective for restaurants, bars, resorts, and offices.

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Popular Restaurant Trends Throughout the Years

Popular Restaurant Trends

How many times a day do you see blog articles pop up on social media titled “25 Most Embarrassing Food Clichés of (insert year here)”? And once your curiosity has gotten the best of you and you’ve clicked on these articles, you see a list teeming with negativity about food and restaurant trends from years gone by. While these articles can be entertaining, hindsight is always 20/20.

It’s safe to say that the restaurant industry has had plenty of changes occur from its inception, some of them better than others. “New” trends are difficult to come by in the restaurant industry, with many ideas being perfected over the years. But as restauranteurs, it’s necessary to look back on restaurant history to see what’s coming in the future.

The 1950’s

The 1950’s easily became the golden era for American restaurants. The Great Depression and war were a thing of the past and left the economy booming. This time of prosperity made it simple for other industries to flourish as well. Due to improvements in the nation’s highway system, the need for stops along interstates grew. With more and more travelers on the road, franchise restaurants became more in demand.

McDonald's in 1954

Photo from allday.com

Many of these franchised restaurants are still popular today. In 1954, the McDonald’s restaurant we know today was bought from the original McDonald brothers and transformed into franchise gold by Ray Kroc. McDonald’s was not the first fast food restaurant, but the assembly-line system was revolutionary for fast food restaurants to come. Kroc was able to turn this humble hot dog stand into a quick and efficient franchising opportunity. McDonald’s franchise model became a beacon of success for other restaurants, like Kentucky Fried Chicken and Dairy Queen, to follow in suit.

Highway System

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With the highway system improvements also came advancements in the automotive industry. The 1950’s was filled with car culture; so why would restaurants be any different? While the first drive-in was opened along the Dallas-Fort Worth Highway in 1921, the 1950’s were the true heyday of drive-in diners. Serving up burgers and shakes, sometimes on skates, these diners became social hangouts for teens and families alike. The drive-in trend continued through the 1960’s and then declined with the increasing number of drive-through options in restaurants.

The 1960’s

Steak and Ale Menu

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Although processed and junk food captured much of the baby boomers’ attention, it wasn’t the only trend happening in America at the time. Steak and Ale (casual dining) began offering a salad bar buffet to guests, keeping them occupied while waiting for their dinners. Soon enough, salad bars were popping up in steakhouses all over the country as a way to customize a guest’s appetizer.

Dining in the 60's

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This decade was also defined by the meats served in restaurants. Most entrees at this time were focused around beef of some sort. Beef wellington, steak Diane, and Swedish meatballs were all popular beef dishes of 1960’s. In middle class restaurants, beef and lobster (or surf n’ turf) dinners were commonly seen on the menu.

Howard Johnson's

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At this point in history, there was an increasing emphasis on family time outside the home (vacations, a meal out, etc.). Popular restaurants of the time, Japanese steakhouse Benihana and Howard Johnson’s were often patronized by these families looking to spend quality time together and bond over dinner. In the 1960’s, dinner became more than just food and more focused on the emotions associated with it as a family.

The 1970’s

The 1970’s marked the beginning of environmentalism as the newest social cause, affecting the food and restaurant industry. Changing their tune from the 1960’s, customers wanted healthier options that were unprocessed and uncomplicated. This shift led to a rise in vegetarianism and health food stores.

At this point in time, there was a shift in gender roles. With a larger number of women in the workforce, restaurants were used as experiences with the family or a chance to get away from the preparations and cleaning up required of cooking at home. More casual-dining chains began spreading across the nation like the Cheesecake Factory and Ruby Tuesday, both opening their doors in 1972. For a quick bite, the 1970’s marked Subway’s start into franchising. Much like the fame of the McDonald’s assembly line from the 1950’s, the Subway assembly line was just as important for future restaurants in similar niches.

In finer dining, Le Cirque (New York City) opened its doors in 1974 by Sirio Maccioni and became a landmark in the city. One of the most infamous dishes to come out of Le Cirque was pasta primavera. This entrée soon became one of the most ordered items at restaurants across the country, its popularity spilling over into the 1980’s as well.

Le Cirque, New York City

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The 1980’s

Innovation ran rampant in 1980’s restaurants. Chefs were taking creative license to create new combinations and dishes, making restaurants trendy and modern. While there were many traditionalists who argued against these new methods, it was certainly an exciting time to be in the restaurant business.

Nouvelle Cuisine

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Nouvelle cuisine was popular especially in finer dining establishments. Chefs worked hard to create elaborate presentations with their dishes, using the plate as a canvas. Popular New York City restaurants like Odeon and Quilted Giraffe used this style quite fervently throughout the 1980’s. Championed by chef Michel Guerard and food critics Henri Gault and Christian Millau, nouvelle cuisine allowed young chefs to be more artistic and not held to the restrictions of traditional French cooking.

Although this cooking style allowed chefs to be more creative in their practice, it ended abruptly with the stock market crash of 1987. With the largest one-day drop of the Dow Jones in history, customers expected more out of their restaurant helpings than the smaller, artistic portions of the time.

Chef Paul Prudhomme

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Another popular trend in the 1980’s was Cajun cooking. While other American chefs looked to other countries to inspire their dishes, chef Paul Prudhomme looked to his Louisiana roots. Prudhomme used classic Louisiana ingredients like blackened beef, crawfish, and shrimp to create exciting menu items such as Chicken and Andouille Gumbo and Cajun Jambalaya. The blackening technique became very popular in the 1980’s, being used in fish and other meat entrees.

The 1990’s

Fusion cooking was on the rise in the 1990’s. A trend, fusion cooking is the combination of different cultural dishes to create something new. Laying the ground work for this new trend, celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck served dishes that combined French and Asian influences for an interesting mixture. Items on Puck’s Chinois on Main menu included foie gras with pineapple and catfish with fried ginger.

Wolfgang Puck

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While these dishes could be highly creative and delicious (like this Thai-inspired pizza), some chefs took it a step too far and created “con-fusion” which were unexpected flavor hybrids that didn’t complement each other well. The “con-fusion” was a result of the chefs trying to jump on the bandwagon and allow their restaurant to have the next big thing, which doesn’t always coincide with a customer’s palate. It is very difficult to specifically label certain “con-fusion” recipes as a failure because taste is extremely subjective. But something tells us that a recipe for spicy Asian green beans with blue cheese isn’t going to be our new favorite food either.

Fusion Cooking

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Many chefs are not a fan of the term “fusion cooking”, claiming negative connotations from the 1990’s. Even though it is still a popular cooking style in the modern world, the term fusion cooking is not normally used.

The 2000’s

At the turn of the century, America became much more conscientious about their foods. Consumers were more concerned about where their food came from, how it was processed, and what was in it. This kind of curiosity led to many consumer-driven changes that effected food suppliers, distributors, and restaurants.

Super Size Me documentary

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One of the most revolutionary food documentaries to ever hit the small screen was Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me, which premiered in 2004 to a shocked America. It was common knowledge at this point that fast food was not the ideal meal for a healthy diet, but this documentary took just how unhealthy fast food could be and made it a living nightmare. After this documentary, many fast food chains began to evaluate their menu offerings.

Fresh food

Many consumers demanded more health-conscious options from all of their eateries. Even big-box retailers like Walmart were starting to offer organic options to their customers. So why wouldn’t restaurants as well? More restaurants began creating and marking healthier choices on their menus while others provided more detailed information about where the food came from. This kind of communication with the customer makes them feel more in charge and able to make more educated decisions based on the information that is provided to them.

Because consumers were aimed to obtain healthier foods (for the most part) they frequented businesses like Subway, Jamba Juice, and casual dining establishments like Applebee’s and Olive Garden. Some of the most popular foods of this decade included sushi, bacon, super fruits (blueberries, acai berries), and cupcakes. Many restaurants assimilated these flavors as a part of their core offerings.

The 2010’s

While we are 60% of the way through the 2010’s, there are still prominent restaurant trends that will have sticking power throughout the remainder of this decade.

Chipotle Assembly Line

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Restaurants that offer assembly line-like service allow for customers to choose how they want their food prepared are huge right now. The customer is able to tailor their experience from station to station to have their food made exactly the way they want it. This customization ability can be seen in restaurants like Chipotle, Blaze Pizza, and even Starbucks.

Coffee craze

Speaking of Starbucks, the 2010’s are drink-crazed. Whether it is coffeehouses or microbreweries, the interest in mixology has skyrocketed. Many restaurants are not limited to regular or decaf coffee offerings anymore. Similarly, restaurants are also producing their own type of craft beer or wine. There is a certain fascination with making these concoctions because it is all about creativity, and is great for expanding your profit margins.

In urban areas where rent is astronomical and constantly changing, the newest restaurant trend isn’t to become a physical building; it’s to have a food truck. This trend has roots starting in Los Angeles with Kogi BBQ truck and chef Roy Choi. With the help of Twitter and the combination of Korean and Mexican cuisine, the Kogi BBQ truck became a success that inspired restauranteurs to take an alternative route for restaurant ownership.

If you’re looking to create something new in your restaurant, it is always helpful to look to the past for inspiration to create your future. These popular trends from the 1950’s all the way to today have their time and place in history. The restaurant industry has a cyclical nature; trends are bound to find their way around again. While the subject matter of the trends may not be your restaurant’s cup of tea, at the very least, you can get a theme night out of it!

What are some trends (modern or older) your restaurant has tried? Let us know in the comments below!

A First Look at Cooper & Elliot – Our Newest Urban-Industrial Restaurant Seating Styles

Tired of the same old restaurant seating look?  You know the one: the square black frame with a metal ladder-back and vinyl seat?  Don’t get us wrong, that look is classic and will be around forever; but, the reason it’s a classic is because almost every restaurant has it.  If you want your dining room to stand out from the sea of competition, we’ve got two brand new seating options for you.

 

Cooper urban industrial chair and barstool

Cooper

Clean lines, a sleek black tubular steel frame, and a contoured ash seat are what make the Cooper one of our best looking styles yet.  The wide ergonomic seat design with a waterfall edge ensures diner comfort, while the heavy steel frame is built to last in even the busiest dining rooms.  Cooper also features one of the latest hottest upcoming trends in restaurant seating: the round tube frame, which adds a modern minimalist look while maintaining the structural integrity of the chair through the use of heavy gauge steel.

 

Elliot Urban Industrial Chair & Barstool with Distressed Hand-Sawn Wood Seat and Back

Elliot

Elliot will transport you back to the beginning days of the industrial revolution!  Featuring a solid wood seat and weathered iron frame finish, the Elliot speaks to a simpler time when furniture was hand crafted, and was built to last.  If you have a rustic concept with reclaimed wood or distressed wood tables, the Elliot is a perfect compliment that adds the industrial flare with its raw steel looking frame.

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Layout and Design for Small Space Restaurants

In many cities, restaurant space comes at a premium.  So much so, in fact, that many owners have to start with a little less room than they might like. For example, in New York City purchase prices range from $99 a square foot in Queens up to $2,521.00 per square foot in Central Park South. That is a huge difference and has a major effect on how much space an owner can afford.

But, tight spaces aren’t necessarily a bad thing. They can create a sense of intimacy and make a business seem more desirable and look busy even with fewer patrons.  They also generally keep overhead costs like rent and electricity down, requiring fewer sales to turn a profit.

Keep in mind, however, that there is a difference between intimate and uncomfortably cramped.  The trick is to take a tight space and make it feel comfortable instead of just jam-packed?  We have a few expert tips that can help.

Planning

Optimizing restaurant space starts from the very beginning. With the very first step of planning the layout it is important to get the ideal front of house/back of house (ie. Kitchen to dining room) ratio.

Often owners are tempted to create a large kitchen to service their restaurant. It’s easy to think that you need to allocate plenty of space to the kitchen since it is such a hub of activity. Every bit of extra space that you give to the kitchen is that much less space you have for diners, tables, and the opportunity to turn a profit.

Line cook in the kitchen.The Evans Group, an award winning design firm based out of Orlando, Florida, recommends saving 1/3 of the space for the kitchen and 2/3 for the dining area. Fast-service or banquet service establishments can have smaller kitchens and dining rooms, helping to increase profit from higher sales volumes. These kitchens can occupy as little as 25 percent of the total floor space, for a 4 to 1 dining area to kitchen ratio.

Organization is key for a small kitchen; everything should have its place. Shelves and hanging racks are great for conserving counter space by utilizing all available surfaces.

Divide the room into stations, so each employee has a designated work space. This will help to cut down on unnecessary kitchen traffic.

To make a small kitchen work consider paring down your menu offerings; limiting the amount of items, will reduce the space needed for prep and cooking. There will also be less need for storing different types of ingredients. Also having as much prep done before the rush will making working out of a small commercial kitchen a lot easier. Don’t sacrifice food quality but try to prep beforehand.

Owners will have to get creative to save space and work out a system but ultimately the hard work and innovative thinking will be rewarded with added efficiency throughout the business.

Design & Decor

There are some tricks that you can use to make your restaurant appear larger; the first of which is the color of your walls. Light colors make your walls recede in appearance. This small adjustment can help to make your room seem bigger and having your customer’s feel a bit less claustrophobic.

Another way you can use your walls to create space is by putting wallpaper on the ceiling; this creates interest that directs eyes upwards and encourages guests to perceive the ceiling to be taller than it actually is. Try to select wallpaper that matches your overall design. Don’t just put any design on your ceiling in hopes of making the room appear larger but consider the overall atmosphere of the room and choose a paper that ads to it.

If you have room on your walls, consider using mirrors to give the appearance of larger room. Use a focal point and angle your mirrors toward it to give the illusion of depth. If you are feeling a bit adventurous try a strip or two of mirrors. Using a mirror across an entire wall can feel confusing. Try to break it down by having strips of mirrors that do the work of expanding the room without reflecting every detail and confusing the eye. Mirrors can also be used to make an asymmetrical room into a symmetrical space which not only creates the illusion of space, but is more pleasing visually.

As far as lighting goes, try to keep your light sources off of the tables. It can crowd the space and make it difficult for patrons to comfortably eat. Instead hang the lights over the tables to create an intimate ambiance. If that doesn’t work using wall mounted lights is also a great space saver.

Another creative trend the industry is currently seeing is many businesses using rolling garage doors to add usable space to their design. During poor weather they remain shut while letting in some light. When Mother Nature is a bit kinder, the doors can be lifted to open the space to an outdoor area set up for outdoor dining or just general mingling.12-1024x537

Entryway

With limited space chances are your waiting area will get plenty of use, so try to make it as comfortable as possible. Creating a good flow in this area will help your guests who are leaving the dining room to do so easily, and leave availability for those currently waiting for a table. Creating a comfortable waiting area also helps in terms of customer’s overall experience; you want them happy when they arrive at their tables and not frustrated and looking for a reason to complain.

Avoid big couches that will make our space seem smaller in favor of benches or chairs. Try to avoid a bottleneck by having a small bar area where patrons can order drinks and chat while waiting for an available table.

high-five-pizza-inv-16833-san-jose-ca-2Dining Room

The dining room is a restaurant’s stage. A place where all the hard work and preparation comes together to create a master piece created for the customer to enjoy. Don’t let poor furniture choices detract from the overall experience. Just because the dining area isn’t the largest, that doesn’t mean its effect on the customer will be any less inspiring. A few rules of thumb can help you to use your furniture to help and not hinder.

Tables
Smaller square tables is a good place to start when creating a layout for a restaurant that is short on space. 24”x 24” or 30”x 30” is a good size to start looking at. They offer flexibility in your layout. If most of your customer base is couples on a romantic night out, a smaller table is perfect for that intimate feel. On the opposite end if you have a party of 12 coming in for a birthday celebration, smaller tables can be moved together to create the banquet table you need for that party.

Tables should be at least 24-30 inches apart. This allows for not only guests but servers to maneuver comfortably. Cramming furniture together can lead to poor service, which can lead to a poor yelp reviews and decreased traffic.

Chairsbru-64-cortland-ny-3

To go along with those smaller tables you will need chairs. Consider chairs that don’t have arms. At the time of purchase it may only seem like a couple extra inches of space to get the chairs with arms but eventually those inches add up. Chairs without arms help to increase flexibility in your overall layout. If you are looking to add space at your bar, look into backless bar stools. Don’t have a bar? Bar stools can be paired with bar height tables to save on space. They can be placed closer together without feeling like you are packing your customers in like sardines.

 Booths

Investing in booths can also be a great space saver. You’re thinking, “Those big bulky seats will save me on space?” Yes, yes they will. A booth that seats 4 people will actually take less space than a comparable table and chairs.  Plus, depending on the number in their party it can give patrons the opportunity to spread out during a business lunch or allow for more relaxation. It also allocates more room for servers. People tend to stay in the area of the booth instead of leaning into aisle ways where busy servers could be rushing to their other customers. Custom booths can be created to fit the look and layout of your restaurant so that the style flows naturally.

dsc_0001As an added bonus, studies show that the average patron spends more while sitting in a booth than at a table. Each customer spends an average of $2.00 more when seated at a booth.

Another piece of furniture to consider when designing your layout is the hostess station or a POS system. Do your best not to place it in your dining area. It adds to the look of being over crowded as well as being visually displeasing to patrons. Those stations are often very large and can take up space that could be used for additional tables and seating.

One of the most important things to do, but often overlooked, is leave enough space for your servers to easily navigate. It sounds obvious but nothing makes a space seem even smaller quite like having staff that are running in to tables and surroundings all the time. Heaven forbid your staff run into each other and drop their trays or worse. Drop it on a customer.

Conclusion

If you have a restaurant in a small space and are having problems, take a look at your layout and design. You may have too bulky of furniture for your area, or not utilizing your space well. Through planning, preparation, and some creative thinking, a small space can be adjusted to be not only pleasing to the eye, but also allow for great work flow.

 

What is Melamine? Frequently Asked Questions from the Files of East Coast Chair & Barstool

Detail of industrial machinery used for the production of panels and sheets of melamine.

If you’ve ever ordered a piece of furniture with a wood veneer, chances are you were working with Melamine, the ubiquitous plastic with myriad uses from Mr. Clean Magic Erasers to floor tiles.

Melamine was first invented in the 1830s by Justus von Liebig, a German chemist who is considered the founder of organic chemistry.  It is created by mixing urea, a waste product, with formaldehyde to create a liquid resin that can be molded under high pressure to create virtually any shape.

Melamine gained prominence in the early 1900’s when it was developed into molded dinnerware called Melmac.  Though Melmac is no longer in existence, melamine tableware is still popular and widely available.  In recent years however, melamine has gained a bad reputation due to several unscrupulous overseas companies using it as filler in consumable products like pet foods and baby formula.  Even though the resin is considered safe for most uses, when ingested, melamine can lead to severe kidney problems and, possibly, even kidney failure.

When used to make furniture, melamine is typically applied as a laminate to particle board or plywood (See the sheets of melamine in the photo above).  The melamine resin is applied to decorative paper to form a laminate that has superior material properties to the cheaper wood materials underneath it.  For example, the laminated material is heat resistant, water resistant, and easily cleanable – all characteristics that are lacking from plywood and particle board.  For these reasons, in addition to its low cost of production, melamine is a great choice for commercial furniture like restaurant tables and office desks; it is also great for cabinetry and bedroom coffee tables.

 

Melamine table tops in an arcade and bar