Optimising Layout for Fast Service: Quick Tips for High-Traffic Cafes

Blog / February 26, 2024

We’ve all been there. You make your way into an interesting cafe for a well-earned cup of tea, only to find it frustrating to navigate and a somehow unsatisfying space to spend time in. Putting your finger on what makes for an enticing, comfortable cafe experience can be tricky. Still, it must be one that also facilitates the fast, efficient serving of beverages and snacks and the intuitive flow of people. This article will examine the delicate balance that must be achieved to optimise a cafe’s layout for rapid service purposes while retaining an inviting, cosy atmosphere in a high-traffic location. 

Making a floor plan

All architects, interior designers, and shopfitters will create a detailed floor plan of the space before making decisions and formulating an overall strategy. Every scrap of that space, both indoor and outdoor, counts when creating your floor plan. Aside from being an excellent way to visualise the available space and how each area will be utilised, it is a requirement of any planning application, and it makes sense to do this first. This stage will require you to accurately measure the space, not just any existing furniture and equipment that must fit inside. Those items might include:

  • The bar
  • Prep areas, often directly behind the bar
  • Kitchen and dish area
  • Queueing/waiting areas
  • Seating and tables
  • Staff areas (offices, break rooms)
  • Cashier stations
  • Restrooms
  • Doors and windows
  • Emergency exits

The simplest, most effective way to draft your floorplan is to engage the services of professionals like those here at 360 Shopfitters. The task can certainly be handled by competent amateurs, especially those familiar with digital software and programs that can assist; however, the process will be much faster and smoother when handled by professionals. 

Once you have the general layout, take some time to visualise how you would like the space to operate and what aspects of its design are non-negotiable factors, like clear access to emergency exits and restrooms. Unless your cafe is being built from the ground up, it likely already has electricity points and plumbing. You would be well advised to keep these in place and only move them as a last resort, especially the plumbing. 

Accessibility

Every local government will have its version of regulations about the access your space provides, occasionally with overarching national guidelines. Placing items and rooms inside your space is more akin to eliminating options individually, as certain elements will be placed according to necessity. For example, although we’ve spent time in cafes where the service area is on the back wall, and you must make your way past tables and chairs to reach it, that is not an efficient use of the space and is bound to cause flow issues. Patrons in wheelchairs or with other access requirements will have difficulty reaching the bar if chairs and tables are strewn everywhere in between. Locating the service area along an adjacent wall as you enter makes more sense, guaranteeing clear access from the front.

Going with the flow

The flow of individuals through your service system is critical to the final effect and the convenience of visiting your cafe. Bottle-necks and cluttered, incoherent spaces are the antithesis of what is required, and serious consideration must be given to this once all non-negotiable factors have been accounted for. Separating the service section from the seating area using a crash barrier or rows of product-containing structures and display cabinets is preferable in high-traffic establishments. This prevents the dining/drinking patrons from spilling into the queue accidentally. 

Staff areas

Don’t neglect the comfort and rights of your employees. There is little point in sacrificing the working prep area behind the counter in favour of more chairs and tables if your staff are cramped and cannot accommodate the extra demand. Consult with them and ask for suggestions and requests. You may not be able to accommodate them all, but this is an excellent way of determining the factors of work they find frustrating and can help with employee retention. 

Dining area

Whether you are aiming for a more intimate, cosy atmosphere or a simple open floor plan that appeals to morning coffee drinkers with limited time, consider the design of your dining space with great care and attention to detail. You may need to engage in some market research to find what elements of a cafe space your customers appreciate most and what is likely to make them return, apart from the superb coffee, of course!

 An industry standard when allocating space for guests is that 60% of the space should be for patrons and the other 40% for everything else (not including restrooms). Your choice of furniture is critical in creating the atmosphere you want, as people are much more likely to settle in and stay a while with soft furnishings and cosy nooks, but there may be a better answer in high-traffic areas. Do your homework and seek the advice of experienced professionals before making any final decisions that can be almost impossible to reverse. 

Final thoughts

There’s much work to be done, but it will all be worth it when your dream cafe is up and running. Seek the countenance of professionals like the ones at 360 Shopfitters, take in their advice and try to introduce an element of fun into your designs to elevate your establishment above one that conveys an atmosphere of ‘Order, drink, and get out’.

Contact us

If this article has spurred you into action, please get in touch with the 360 Shopfitters team today. We are ready to offer all the information and guidance you need and prepare an obligation-free quote for our unrivalled services.