4 Tips for Choosing the Perfect Restaurant Chairs

We know that finding the perfect seating for your restaurant can be an overwhelming process, so we pulled together a guide full of information and tips to make your search a little easier. When choosing your perfect restaurant chairs, here are the four things you should always keep in mind:

  1. Style
  2. Quality
  3. Budget
  4. Needs

The right restaurant chairs are more than just places to sit. When a customer sits down for a meal, their chair is an integral part of their experience. In addition to comfort and quality, the appearance of a restaurant chair contributes to the atmosphere, aesthetic, and brand of your restaurant. Haphazardly selecting furniture can lead to a muddled and confused design, and worse, an uncomfortable experience.  

We don’t want that, you don’t want that, and your customers certainly don’t want that. So, let’s find your perfect restaurant chairs.

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1. Design & Style

Introducing  seating anatomy 101. You know what a chair is, but did you know each type of chair fills a specific need of the dining area like comfort, height, sit times, footprint, and aesthetic? When thoughtfully and strategically selected, the right chair creates a balanced and dynamic space.

Side Chair: The most common type of restaurant chair is the side chair. Found in practically all restaurants or commercial dining spaces, side chairs are equally as suited for a small, intimate table for two as a communal table for large groups. While there are many styles of side chairs, to comfortably fit at a dining height table, side chairs should be 18”-19” in width, seat height should be around 18". The frame should be able to support at least 250 pounds.


Barstool: While barstools are associated with bars, these seats have gained popularity in many types of spaces and designs. With an array of options including backless, bolt-down, free-standing, and swivel, barstools can be used in different areas of a restaurant to create very different effects: tucked against the window of a cafe, the seat is more solitary, but near the lounge of an upscale eatery, stools at a cocktail table signal a place for mingling and conversation. Barstools are designed to sit at a comfortable height relative to a bar, measuring around 30” at the seat. Their shorter cousins, the counter stools, are made to suit a counter around 24” at the seat. Like side chairs, barstools should always be designed to support a minimum of 250 pounds.

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Armchair: Characterized by armrests on either side of the seat, these chairs tend to feel formal, though it can depend entirely on design, material, back height, and the presence or absence of upholstery. Originally found at the heads of larger tables, armchairs have found their new niche as informal, free-standing partners to banquettes and large round tables. Armchairs are usually upholstered and should have the same basic specifications as a side chair: 18” seat width (or larger), 18” seat height, and able to accommodate at least 250 pounds.

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Now, with a good grasp on the types of restaurant chairs, it’s time to get into the really fun part: style. In a highly competitive foodservice industry, thoughtful and unique design helps create a memorable experience and differentiates your brand. Furniture, specifically seating, is a relatively simple and effective way to elevate any design. Let’s gloss through some of the most popular, versatile, and attractive chairs commonly used in commercial dining:

  • Classic: It’s difficult to beat the classic Bentwood chair in terms of grace and elegance. Characterized by light, strong wood that is carefully bent into shape using steam, Bentwoods became popular in the early 19th century—and have remained a bestseller ever since. With or without arms, these classic chairs create a welcoming and comfortable atmosphere with a hint of refinement.
  • Traditional: Traditional chairs often feature wood frames, slatted or carved backs, curved legs, and upholstered seats. Queen Anne and Chippendale chairs are both examples of traditional chairs with extravagant carved detail. Today, you will find traditional chairs have toned down in style, featuring simpler, linear backs similar to our Brooke and Melissa Collections.
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  • Windsor: These spindle-backed chairs are at once classic and modern, creating the impression of timelessness. With smooth, curved lines and sturdy wood construction, Windsor chairs are classy and welcoming, lending themselves to sophisticated but relaxed atmospheres.
 
  • Ladderback: Ladderback chairs have long been known as the quintessential restaurant chairs. No frills, no nonsense, they get their name from the evenly spaced horizontal slats that make up the back of the chair, and they are the champions of versatility. These work horses fit right in with diners, pizzarias, bars, and breweries.
 
  • Shell: Shell chairs combine minimalism with a contemporary edge. Constructed with sleek bent plywood that forms both the back and the seat accompanied with a minimal steel base, they exude an understated stylishness as well as provide comfort.
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  • Modern: You know one when you see one. Modern chairs often feature sleek or playful shapes and angles. Materials can range from powder coated steel, to trendy White Oak, to an angular base shape. No matter the design, modern restaurant chairs add instant panache and design credibility to any restaurant space.
 
  • Indoor/Outdoor: Perfect for restaurants with sidewalk space, patios, or open concept, these chairs are usually made out of metal for carefree maintenance. Slatted or mesh designs are preferred as they remain cooler in the sun and allow precipitation to runoff.
 
  • Industrial: This wildly popular aesthetic draws inspiration from the strong lines and materials of old factories and industrial spaces. A combination of durable woods, metals, and dark colors make industrial chairs a trendy addition to any dining space.
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  • Lounge: As we noted in our 2018 Trend Report, we predict more and more restaurants will incorporate multi-purpose seating in design. Lounges are the perfect non-traditional pieces to encourage relaxation and conversation. Paired with a low table, lounge chairs are the perfect place for guests to enjoy a cocktail, appetizers, or cup of coffee. 
   

2. Quality & Construction

Would you use the stove you have at home in your restaurant’s kitchen? Of course, the answer is a resounding no. The same idea can be applied to restaurant chairs. If you were to use any old dining chairs, they’d wear out quickly or break—a huge risk management concern. That’s why it’s important for your brand and your wallet to know exactly what makes a chair commercial-grade.

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When it comes to heavy-duty use, quality construction is the name of the game. Even if restaurant chairs are visually very similar to those designed for residential use, there are several key differences in how they’re built.

  • Materials: With commercial-grade furniture, material quality is an important aspect of ensuring the strength and durability of the product. Commercial furniture manufacturers should be transparent and upfront with species and materials used in their products. A tell-tale sign of poor materials include murky product description and lack of species and material information. If the tables or chairs are solid wood, look for species. If the product is labeled steel, look for the gauge. If the chair is aluminum, ask how they create the brushed pattern. Bonus points if the manufacturer sources their materials locally.
  • Construction: Look for steel and aluminum chairs that have joints that are hand-tailored, coped, and brazed to maximize strength and durability. Poorly finished steel and aluminum chairs will have lumpy, inconsistent welds that have a different texture than the rest of the chair. Alternatively, wood chairs should have mortise-and-tenon construction maximize joint strength.
  • Seat Shape: While seat shape may not make or break a decision, it is something to keep in mind when purchasing wood chairs. Restaurant chairs will often use a slight saddled or scooped  seat instead of one that is flat to provide added comfort.
  • Fabric Type: With upholstered chairs, not only do you have to consider all the build quality questions that come with a chair purchase, but also the question of fabric type and quality. For manufacturers with a COM policy, be sure to do your research. For restaurant upholstery, you will want a fabric that has been tested with a multitude of cleaners (like Lysol or bleach) and a fabric that has been tested to withstand at 50,000 double rubs. Both of these factors ensure durability and longevity. It’s also helpful to see if that fabric has a care and maintenance guide for inevitable spills.
  • Chair Glides: Glides are the “feet” of your chair, and they exist to prevent damage to the floor when chairs are pulled out and pushed in. Commercial-grade chair glides are designed to withstand frequent movement and friction, and they’re often able to be used on several different types of flooring.
  • BIFMA Standards: All restaurant seating should be tested to meet BIFMA standards for safety and quality purposes. Note: not all furniture manufacturers comply with these standards. We do, here’s why.

 

3. Budget & Planning

The investment required to start a restaurant isn’t exactly pocket change, and it can be tempting to allocate funds to kitchen equipment, staffing, suppliers, and the million other pressing things you need. Here’s the thing about restaurant furniture: quality restaurant chairs aren’t cheap, and cheap restaurant chairs aren’t high quality. That doesn’t mean that you can’t get great value on any budget. You need to be strategic in how you plan to invest funds into durable, reliable, quality seating.

It's a Long Game

If you’re not planning on renovating for at least three to five years, it’s important to find furniture that’s not only built to last, but also includes a long-term warranty. A shorter warranty, such as a one year structural warranty, usually indicates that the manufacturer doesn’t have much confidence in the quality of their product, and it can leave the customer in an unpleasant situation when they are forced to purchase new chairs if or when they break. Manufacturers who offer long-term warranties on their furniture are committed to the quality of their product and to the satisfaction of the customer regarding their investment. With restaurant furniture, look for a minimum five year warranty.

Plan Ahead

Before purchasing your restaurant chairs, make a floorplan of your space. How many seats will you need? How many do you need for backup, in case one breaks or you need additional seating at a table for a large group? Do you intend on using seating besides chairs, such as booths or banquettes? Careful planning during every stage of furnishing your restaurant will help you understand what you’re looking for.

Cost-Saving Strategies

Keep in mind when budgeting for chairs is that compromise is not sacrifice. If the Mohair velvet or leather fabric you originally specified is too pricey, look for alternatives that give the same bang but cost half the buck. Besides, with advances in mills and fabric technology, there are plenty of good and durable options for faux luxury fabrics. The trick is to do your research. For things like custom color match on metal or custom stains on wood, a manufacturer-provided shade that’s within the same palette can save you an exorbitant amount of time and money. We understand the desire to have everything just-so, and if your budget allows it, go for it! But, small compromises can help you achieve your desired style without breaking the bank—and even the most design-savvy customers will not notice the difference.

While it may seem counterintuitive, another strategy for keeping costs down is buying more. Buying more chairs does mean a greater initial capital outlay, but because it’s more cost effective for manufacturers to produce en mass, they’ll often pass a significant amount of the savings onto the purchaser. This raises the value per chair, saves on expansion and maintenance costs long-term, and ensures you have plenty of seating in storage for when you need it.

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4. Defining Needs

To an everyday restaurant patron, the chair they sit in may not seem very significant. But for restaurant designers and owners, they are a key part of the style and functionality of the dining room. Each restaurant is unique, from the menu to location to target clientele, so while it’s important to consider each of the different functions of your restaurant chairs, some may be more important than others. Here are some questions to ask yourself before taking the plunge.

Comfort

  • On average, how much time does or will a customer spend at your restaurant?
  • How much time do you want them to spend at your restaurant?

Depending on your type of restaurant, comfort can be more or less a priority. For family and fine dining, customers spend a significant amount of time in their seats, with an average sit time of 60 minutes. In order to provide comfort for a longer visit, an upholstered is the way to go. For a quick service restaurant with an average sit time of 20 minutes, wood or metal seats will suffice.

Brand Building

Every aspect of a chair’s look, from type to style to color, contributes to the overall picture of your restaurant, and leaves a lasting impression. But finding chairs that help to build your brand requires some careful thought and selection.

You should first decide on what sort of aesthetic you want your brand to be associated with before choosing chairs. This could depend on a lot of factors:

  • Where is your restaurant located?
  • What sort of cuisine is on your menu?
  • What is your price point?
  • Who do you want to visit your restaurant?
  • What makes your restaurant special?

Then, you can move on to choosing the colors, textures, signage, flooring, lighting, paint, tables and chairs that will build and reinforce that atmosphere. A trendy, minimalist sushi restaurant will want to choose very different seating from a cozy classic American diner, and if you were to switch the two, customers would be very confused about the brand they’re trying to present.

You can take branding a step further by customizing your chairs with your brand’s colors. When you work with an American manufacturer of restaurant furniture, you get a lot more flexibility in the details of your chairs. Metal chairs can be made with custom colors so that patrons are immersed in your brand during every moment of their experience. Consciously branding with your chairs makes it that much easier for people to form brand associations and helps you stand out from your competition.


Choosing seating for your restaurant is a critical decision, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. By going into your search knowing the style, quality, cost, and type of chair you need, you can quickly narrow down your options to the best pieces for you. We’d love to talk to you more about how to choose your perfect restaurant chairs. Page through our newest LookBook, available below, and contact us to discuss exactly what your restaurant needs.

Restaurant furniture