Don't sweat the small stuff: maximising restaurant space with design

With such a premium on restaurant space, making the most of your square footage is more important now than ever, especially if your restaurant or bar is on the small side. But if the UK’s love of the micropub and pop-up restaurant is anything to go by, small doesn’t have to mean small fry. Tiny can mean exclusive, quirky and cosy – you just have to make sure every square inch is earning its keep. Here, we share our tips on how to maximise a small restaurant space – and take a look at some examples of people getting it right.

Lighten up

Natural light is a hot commodity when it comes to making a space feel as big as possible, so maximise yours by adding windows or expanding existing ones where possible. Mirrors will also help spread what natural light you do have further and can really help give the illusion of extra space – particularly in long narrow restaurants where the natural light source is at one end of the room only. Patio-style doors, which can be opened in the summer to give the illusion of more space, are another great option.

Colour me spacious

When it comes to colour, lighter shades are best for creating the illusion of space. Some paint manufacturers even offer a range of colours specifically designed to make a room feel brighter and more airy, such as Dulux’s Light & Space range. If you’re taking the opposite tack and want to showcase your cosiness, warm rich reds and darker colours will help create that subterranean, Hobbit-hole feel.

Do be a square

Small, square tables, which can be pushed together to accommodate larger groups, are a much savvier option for smaller restaurants and bars than large round tables. Think of them as Tetris-style building blocks that allow you to switch-up the layout of your restaurant at the drop of a hat. Folding furniture is another easy way to maximise layout flexibility.

Art not clutter

Finding enough storage is a huge challenge in a small restaurant. But instead of trying to squirrel everything away out of sight, why not make your clutter part of the design? Floor-to-ceiling box shelving provides an eye-catching way to store small items such as napkins, condiments and cutlery. Play around with colour and think about visible appeal as well as functionality when you buy something that is going to be stored on display.

Consider all options for seating

If you’ve managed to squeeze a bar in, include some counter seating for guests just having bar snacks and light bites. You can do the same to make use of window space, or anywhere you have a long narrow area that won’t quite allow face-to-face dining.

Make things as streamlined as possible for your waiting staff by using banquette seating along walls – you’ll be able to squeeze more people in if you’re going for a cosy informal feel and they can double up as storage trunks.

Go al fresco

Outdoor tables could allow you to double your covers and free up some more inside space – even in the winter months if you install outdoor heaters and awning. But, licence fees do apply in some areas. Contact your local council for more information.

Small bars and restaurants we love

The Walrus and the Carpenter, Seattle, US:

A relaxed, cosy, oyster bar and seafood restaurant, opened by a group of friends in Seattle in 2009. Counter seating and white-washed walls help maximise the space, as does the natural light from the patio doors.

40 St Paul's Birmingham

This tiny bar in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter specialises in gin and recently won Imbibe’s Gin List of the Year for its collection of 140 premium gins. With no sign or discernible features from the outside, its air of mystery and exclusivity has become part of its unique appeal.

Central Hotel & Café, Copenhagen, Denmark

This little café and hotel in Copenhagen’s Vesterbro district has just one double bedroom upstairs. But what it lacks in space, it makes up for in style, with beautifully handcrafted detailing and bespoke, space-saving furniture.

Marianne, Notting Hill

You might recognise chef and owner Marianne Lumb as one of the MasterChef 2009 finalists. With just 14 covers, this restaurant is as exclusive as it is small. Its simplistic, understated design and neutral colour palette helps create the illusion of space.

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