Laying Out Your Dream

by Joe Selzler

We have been looking at starting a new business in the last few articles and some of the principles that we should consider as we plan it. We will continue to do so in the articles that follow, but now is a good time to say that even an established business can use these principles to reassess its standards. As an established business we sometimes need to step out of a certain, "We have been in business long enough to know what we are doing" attitude that has left us oblivious to the needs of our clientele. With this in mind let's look at the next area of business planning, layout.

Certainly one of the most important steps in good business planning is laying out our premises. We need to decide where to put the kitchen and where to put the seating, or where to put the stock and where to put the cash till. To list every factor and situation that would affect our layout would go beyond the scope of this short article. Are there, however, any principles we can consider which could help with laying out our dream business?

Extending Our Customers an Invitation

One of the most important ideas in hospitality is that we need to invite our customers into our business. We may all agree with this and say, "Yes, of course, this is natural." Where we can sometimes miss it, however, is that we fail to realise that our layout plays the biggest role in expressing that invitation. If we get our layouts wrong we could give potential customers the sense that we are crowded or that we are disorganised. This will reduce the chance that they will enter our premises because the signal they get from our layout is almost one of, "Keep Out". Perhaps a simple example might illustrate this point best.

On my way home from work every night I would pass a famous ice cream shop in London. I knew the product that they served was of top quality, so I wanted to go in and try some. After one visit however, I was in no hurry to return to this shop. Here's the reason why. The layout they chose made a small and narrow site even smaller and narrower. The service counter ran along one wall and the seating along the opposite wall. This type of layout works well in a wide shop, however in a narrow shop it only restricts the customers. Another problem was that the seating extended to the door, making it very difficult for customers to come and go. From what I could see there were too many obstacles for me to sense any invitation to enter this shop.

Recently, however, the situation changed. The shop was refurbished so that it is now more inviting. The shop owners moved the service counter to the rear of the shop and the seats to the front of the shop. The area around the doors has been cleared giving the shop a more open appearance. Now, when I look into the shop I get the impression that I am being invited to enter.

Some Things to Avoid

A friend of mine told me of a cafe' she liked to go to in the centre of London. She liked just about everything about them: their food and their atmosphere, for examples. However, she did not like their automatic door. The owners had placed seating near this door and every time someone came into the cafe', or whenever someone approached the end of the service counter that was near the door, it would automatically open. She did not like sitting near this door when the weather was unpleasant because she always got cold. This spoilt her time there and caused her to visit the cafe' less frequently. Automatic doors can be a good thing. They can smooth traffic flow, easing entry and exit. As they open when a person approaches them they can give the unspoken expression, "Please come in!". Automatic doors can be a courtesy making it easier for customers with bags to exit. However, it is important to place them in the right place, and in a small shop, where space is a premium, it might be better to avoid them if it means seating will need to be close to them.

Creating and developing a business is a very challenging task. Business can be a very precise science. But it also requires a bit of artistic flare. At first we might only think that if we want to sell the best Chicken Chasseur in town we just need to get the best ingredients and start cooking. Cooking good food is probalby the most important part, but it is augmented by many other factors. As we have seen above, getting our layout right has a very profound effect on our success. In order for a business to be a success it must be done well. However, it must be done well in every part, for every part of a business supports the other parts. To get potential customers to try our food, we have to get them to come in to our premises. Our layout can play a big role in inviting them to come in and try our food.

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