Using a paper floor plan has been common in the restaurant industry for a long time, and many software applications have incorporated spatial floor plan concepts into their designs. Floor plans are deceptively complex to use, however, and here’s some reasons you might want to consider better options.

Key information is scattered in different directions

You don’t need a map of store aisles to buy something online at Amazon, so why should you need a map of tables to seat customers? Maps are useful when you are going somewhere new or need to navigate to the right location. Managing tables though is a more complicated challenge of filling as many of your seats as possible, at any given time, for different levels of customer traffic. The problem with floor plans is they spread key information across a map of tables, so it takes longer to look in all directions to find the information you need. It is easy to miss things, make mistakes, and get bogged down.

Your wait staff doesn’t need a map of the restaurant. They should know where to go. What they need is a simple way to know the best place to seat the next customer. With table management software from Waitlist Me, key information can be ordered in a way that makes sense, so you can make smarter decisions faster. Learning to read a floor map takes time and training, and methods vary widely. Everyone knows how to read a book, so organizing data in ways it can be read from top to bottom and left to right requires less training and produces better results.

Comparing apples and oranges is difficult


Tables are usually divided into sections, and servers are assigned to these sections. The goal is generally to spread the workload across each section, so servers get their fair share of the work, customers are seated and served quickly, and operations run smoothly. It’s hard to know where to seat the next customer with a floor plan though, because it is difficult to compare sections and decide which is the least busy.

Sections may have varying numbers of tables, with different sizes and shapes, positioned in all kinds ways. There is also usually table-specific information related to the status or availability of the tables. Deciding between just two sections requires considering multiple dimensions related to table groupings and table availability. It’s like comparing apples and oranges. When choosing between multiple sections, it is even more difficult to choose the right section and table for the next customer. The decision-making process is time consuming and requires a lot of mental gymnastics to reach a conclusion. Most people just end up guessing somewhere in the middle of the process or selecting the first open table that jumps out at them.

Tables are static, but demand is not

The number of customers at a restaurant serves at a given time can vary depending on the day and time, and it is common to have more servers and sections for busier times. With floor plans, you either need to redraw lines to separate out sections on the fly, or you have to maintain multiple floor plan diagrams with different table groupings. In either case, employees must learn to read the same map in several different ways. For example, going from four to six sections means you have more sections to compare, with fewer tables per section, so you need to remember to make adjustments and scan the map differently when comparing sections. The more layouts you have, the more time it takes to learn to manage each floor plan strategy effectively, and the greater the likelihood of making mistakes.

Bad decisions lead to unhappy customers and frustrated employees


There is no set way to read a floor plan, so employees may manage tables in different ways with varying results. This lack of transparency and efficiency in the table management process can lead to a number of problems. Customers may wonder why it is taking so long, or become upset when having to wait longer than the time they were quoted. If too many customers are seated at the same section at the same time, they may get impatient waiting for their server to visit and take their order. Unhappy customers are less likely to visit the restaurant again soon, and may even post negative reviews on Yelp about the service.

For employees, getting a fair share of the work and tips is important, but a lack of transparency in how decisions are made when seating with floor plans can lead to frustration. They may wonder why they aren’t getting enough of the customers or complain about getting too many at once and not being able to provide the right level of service. Managers end up having to spend more time dealing with personnel issues, and productivity and service quality can suffer.   Having a table management system that keeps things running smoothly is in everyone’s best interests.

Measuring and improving results is difficult

Because floor plans have been used for so long, many people have become comfortable with them, and may not realize how inefficient they are. They may also not know that technology is making better solutions possible. Part of the reason that restaurant operators still cling to floor plans is that it is hard to trace poor business results back to poor decisions made using floorplans. It is difficult to make improvements when you can’t measure the impact of how effectively floor plans are being used.

Restaurant managers may notice the symptoms of problems, but not understand all the contributing factors. It is upsetting to see customers leave and not know how to fix it. It is frustrating to hear employees complain about getting too many or not enough customers in their section when you aren’t sure why it happens. These types of problems can be improved with system like Waitlist Me that gives customers more visibility into their wait experience and employees more transparency and fairness regarding how tables are assigned.


About the Author

Brian Hutchins is a software product management and marketing veteran with 20 years of experience at several successful startups as well as at household names like Google, Yahoo, and Colgate Palmolive. As the CEO of Waitlist Me, Brian is leading the mission to improve wait experiences and save people time everywhere. Started in 2012, Waitlist Me has helped thousands of businesses serve over 100 million customers.