Venue Layout 101: Transforming Your Bar
We all know that the return to service is going to look a little different than before. With the safety of staff and guests at the forefront of reopening, Ollie Margan, owner of Maybe Mae, takes a look at how to transform your venue, from seating plans to the smooth integration of table service.
Where to Begin
Along with back bar and station design, venue layout is one of the key design features where form and function are both often of equal consideration in bars/restaurants. With restricted capacities being enforced upon licensed establishments, external pressures around maintaining both form and function of venue layout are created.
Restrictions around bar seating and enforcement of table service are two such pressures that may act to compromise the pre-shutdown aesthetic of a venue. As an operator, manager or bartender it is important to understand how the space could be adapted to suit.
We often associate stand-up service, bar seating and waited table service with certain types of venues. With sit-down table service enforced in most regions it will cease to be a genre defining feature. This concept might go against the grain of some venues, whilst barely altering others; universally, it is now an imperative point of consideration in moving forward in this industry.
Rather than prescribe an individual solution, I will be sharing the thought process I have taken to create the safest and most comfortable service environment for guests when reopening.
At your Service
Even if you’re not at a point of reopening, now is a good time to start planning and transitioning towards a table service model, which is being rolled out across many areas of the globe. Ensuring the comfort and safety of guests has always been the duty of care for bar staff, this now extends to promoting social distancing. However, with open bar service, your ability to do so will be compromised. The control of movement throughout the venue for both staff and guests alike is best achieved via a well-structured sequence of service and seating plan.
Through assigned seating, the opportunity for bookings also becomes an option. Online reservation services provide a competitive advantage for your venue, along with allowing for easy contact tracing, should the need arise. The data metrics recorded by certain hospitality apps can help to optimize your product and enhance your patronage.
Keep it Personal
Table service for some might be seen as an erosion of venue personality. Whilst this may be true in some spaces, the duty of care/local regulations possibly provide no option. However, there are so many ways in which you can actually enhance personality and quality of customer service in all types of spaces via table service.
For instance, the extra time spent with guests affords a greater ability for safe engagement i.e. the propensity to convey the venue’s story is increased. The control exercised to successfully run your bar with a table service model displays confidence from a venue standpoint. This will in turn be felt by the guest, and the experience will therefore be more comfortable. There will be varying degrees of social anxiety to be dealt with, and a confident and well thought through sequence of service will be crucial to achieve a relaxed experience for the server/guest.
When considering a revised floor plan to facilitate social distancing, reduced capacity and a potential transition to table service, an order of priorities will help obtain the optimal layout.
- Ascertain areas/tables that will be decommissioned due to their proximity to thoroughfare, wait stations, points of ingress and bar tender positions.
- Identify key areas that can be dynamic in their arrangement, whilst maintaining a reasonable capacity. Booths are good to use as much possible due to their fixed nature. A rotational model can help minimise table turning time, allowing for tables to be out of use for a sitting to undergo full sanitising.
- The goal is to make the room feel atmospheric without feeling claustrophobic. Think about the guest’s line of sight, you want their vision to appear generous in terms of space, but not deserted so they feel isolated.
- An ‘order of fill’ model will help to manage peak and off-peak times. Small groups filling from the bar, to high tops, to booths. Larger groups filling in reverse.
- Reduced capacities are often calculated on the serviceable footprint. Speak to the relevant government bodies to see if there is the potential to modify the venues license conditions – outdoor seating is perhaps the most obvious tact here.
The Winning Formula
The strategies listed above are more an order of thinking than a direct prescription for success. Each venue is different and has its own variables and nuance. A good understanding of the individual mechanics, paired with these recommendations should help. A few key differences for some standard venue types can be drawn.
Large, open plan venues should look at concentrating the floorplan by potentially closing off sections of the room. Bordering a new footprint with greenery will help to make the space feel less sparse.
Small venues should look at not removing lots of furniture. Anecdotally speaking, groups sitting in close proximity within themselves will look to fill negative space around them, thus encroaching on the personal space of others. Leaving ‘dead’ stools can help to prevent this.
Venues transitioning to table service will need to overstaff the floor in order to manage the conversations required to educate regulars. There is the risk of generating friction if this isn’t managed properly. Advertising booking services and new service model online through social media is a good way to spread this message to prospective guests.
- Adapt your space to suit new guidelines without compromising aesthetics
- Transition to table service and online booking for safe and efficient service
- Consider a revised floor plan to facilitate social distancing, reduced capacity and a potential transition to table service
- Spice up your social media: use your channels effectively to communicate with guests
- Evaluate the individual mechanics of your venue and work out your strategy
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