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7 HIDDEN DESIGN TRICKS TO IMPROVE PRODUCTIVITY

Updated: Sep 14

Often wonder why some restaurants are more efficient and have a better flow than others? Or why staff at some restaurants seem happier and manage to get your food to the table still hot and on time? How about your hotel where the room was made up before you returned with a nice note from the maid? The answer could be as simple as that establishment has the right layout, the equipment is in the right place and the distance between areas is correct.

49th Parallel, Vancouver

Proper location of equipment is essential to make the cook’s or bartender's life easier. Enough space in the aisles to allow 2 people to work behind the bar but not too much space to make the staff take extra steps is the key to get that drink faster to the client. If there is increased distance between the back counter and the front service line beyond the proven dimensions, this could mean adding another person to improve production time, adding labor costs. No restaurant owner wants that.

Here are a couple of design formulas we’ve learned over the years that worked for us and help improve flow. They are not necessarily noticeable to the guest but improve the guest and employee experience.


Hidden Trick - One

I’ve seen the back-bar area massive, as if there were meant to be 10 people behind the bar which totally squeezed the customer side of the bar area, reducing the seating capacity in the lounge. Decreased seat count means decreased income. Increased aisle space for staff means increased labor costs. So, what is the magic formula?


It has been our experience that a 3’-0” to 3’-6” distance between the back bar and the front bar equipment is optimal for 2 servers. This distance measurement takes into account those protrusions from the bar well or the deeper beer coolers.

Hotel Saskatchewan Lobby Bar

Hidden Trick - Two

Layout of equipment. Adjacency of equipment is crucial to improve productivity behind the scenes. For instance in this example highlighted in green the warmer oven is directly beside the prep line-up.


As in commercial spaces the same holds true for one’s home. The kitchen triangle, seems to be dead. It’s more important to group functions together as in commercial spaces. The home kitchen may have 2 garbage and recycle areas as they are ideally located by the cutting station as well as the overall kitchen, making the flow easier. Most kitchens today need to be laid out to accommodate more than one cook in the kitchen as this has become a family event. Note the articles by Janice Blakely in Architectural Digest and Kelsey Pudloski for Livabl.

Hidden Trick - Three

A proper thought-out layout is crucial to the successful flow of a restaurant, bar or hotel. Direction of travel must be considered in everything not just to meet code but also to increase productivity. Door swings for egress and use of equipment must be considered to ensure that the specification of equipment lists the swing of the doors in the right direction. In the same image as shown above, note the swing of the doors of the equipment. In this example – the green highlights the correct door swing but the pink the door swing is counter intuitive and ergonomically incorrect. The doors in the pink area should be swinging the other way as the activity is on the left of the doors.


Hidden Trick - Four

Not enough POS stations in a restaurant. Too often all the front of the house is used up for extra seating not leaving enough room to place a POS station and its needed circulation space. The focus is on bums in seats for extra cash but not enough POS stations also means extra wait time for the food therefore decreasing customer satisfaction.


The waiter/waitress has to travel extra distance to place the order, therefore lengthening the time it takes to advise the kitchen and ultimately deliver the food to the guest. The extra steps for the staff adds to their stress when things are hopping in the restaurant.

For a restaurant, a good rule of thumb is that for every 40 – 48 seats supply one station that is shared by 2 staff.

Hidden Trick – Five

While we are discussing dimensions, in hotel room design we are often faced with the challenge to create a larger bathroom experience but within the confines of the typical guestroom size of around 350 sq.ft. this means the bedroom area would have to shrink. A guestroom cannot function if the distance between the bed and wall is less than 18” as when the bed is made up with duvets and sheets this distance shrinks to just around 12”. It’s impossible for the maid to properly make up the bed in this small space. If she cannot fit in to change the sheets and has to squeeze in between the bed and wall this decreases her productivity time, meaning she cleans less rooms than in ideal conditions. Or alternatively another staff member (extra labor) has to come move the bed out and then come back in, once the bed is made up. Have you seen the size of some of the maids? Often they are too small to move a heavy queen mattress themselves.

Hidden Trick – Six

We’ve recently completed the design for a family oriented hotel near Disneyland where the owners wanted a water park outdoor entertainment area at the back of the lobby. This meant that the original layout had the guest elevators accessing the guest rooms on the other side of the lobby which had guests in wet bathing suits tromping through the lobby to get to the elevators to their rooms.


As this was a new build hotel, we analyzed the stacking of the floors and realized we could move the elevators closer to the water park, preventing cross traffic of newly arrived guests and wet kids and still had the right amount of guestrooms on the upper floors.

Hidden Trick – Seven

Speaking of elevators. Too many times the new owner skips the cost of a service elevator to help their budgets yet don’t realize the added cost to labor and aggravation to the staff. Elevators in the hotel that primarily services guests means that the maids have to use the same elevators. If there is a guest on the elevator the maid has to wait until the elevator comes back clear. This means delay in getting the rooms cleaned, therefore, downtime for the maids as they sit and wait for the next elevator.

Hopefully I’ve shared some clever tricks that improve productivity of the staff and result in a happier client. If you feel this was helpful or would like to start a dialogue, please feel free to reach out to me through our website www.hagerinc.com or at info@hagerinc.com

Doris Hager is the founder of Hager Design International Inc. an international interior design firm with hospitality projects throughout North America. Doris can be reached at www.hagerinc.com or info@hagerinc.com

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