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Whether you’re outfitting your new restaurant, diner, cafe, coffee shop, or convenience store for the first time, or you’ve decided that it’s time to replace those dated, threadbare, creaky tables and chairs with something new, you’ve probably noticed how expensive outfitting your dining room can be. What’s even worse, is the surprise bill for providing your customers a safe, comfortable place to eat usually comes AFTER you’ve already invested tens (or even hundreds) of thousands of dollars into getting your commercial kitchen set up with the wide array of expensive, state-of-the-art equipment you need to cook.
Whether you’re setting up a cozy nook in the back corner of a country store, or investing in a brand new restaurant that seats 100 people, finding the extra room you’ll need in the budget for dozens of tables and potentially hundreds of chairs can put a big crimp in your bottom line. Tabletops, table bases, and chairs for each can cost upwards of $500 per set. Multiply that by five, ten, or 50 sets, and you’re talking about punching a big hole in your bank account.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view), the money you invest in your dining area will speak volumes to your customers about the character of your establishment, which makes it one area where you simply can’t cut corners.
After all, once you’ve invested the capital needed for renovations, including paint, art, and getting the lighting just right, it can all be ruined by tossing in a hodgepodge of mismatched, worn, ugly, uncomfortable furniture. The furniture you choose speaks volumes about your business; fill it with bargain-basement formica or plastic promotional furniture, and your customers aren’t sure to stick around for long.
Luckily, there’s a wide range of options in the used restaurant furniture market for anyone trying to squeak a little extra mileage out of their strained budgets.
Because restaurants tend to be always opening and closing, chances are, someone right in your area is sitting on a warehouse or self storage unit that’s chock full of gently used restaurant furniture. And because commercial-grade furniture is designed to withstand years of heavy use, most of these pieces can be brought back to life with nothing more than a good cleaning and a few simple repairs.
But where do you begin your search? We’ve rounded up our best tips and tricks, to make your search for used restaurant furniture just a little less painful.
What Kinds of Used Restaurant Furniture Should Be on My List?
You’ve probably already settled on buying tables and chairs for your dining area. But there are many more options that might make sense for your establishment, depending on the style of restaurant you are operating and your clientele.
For example, if your restaurant caters to families, have you considered booster seats for your younger guests? You’ll need both boosters for bigger kids, as well as freestanding high chairs for youngsters.
Does your location have a bar? You’ll need at least a few dozen barstools. Start by sketching a potential layout for your dining room that addresses the needs of every type of customer, and figure out which pieces of furniture will maximize the space, allow for more seats per square foot, as well as provide flexibility for large groups.
Planning the Layout of Your Dining Room Interior
Figuring out how many tables your dining area can reasonably accommodate is a crucial first step in the your planning. Consider a few cozy two-tops for romantic couples, tucked away in odd corners which would otherwise be too small for larger groups.
Consider different seating options, or combinations of seating arrangements, including freestanding tables, counter service, or intimate booths, for family-style seating, to maximize the comfort of your guests and the efficiency of your staff as they move through the dining room.
Remember: The primary goal for any successful restaurant layout is to maximize the number of tables you can install, while keeping the dining room safe, comfortable, and highly functional.
Be careful about cramming too many tables, too close together. According to a 2010 study, closer tables may help you increase the number of people you can seat for each service, but it dramatically impacts the overall comfort level of your guests.
Diners at tables that are 20 inches or less apart “generally expressed lower satisfaction in almost every category” including food, friendliness of service, and whether they chose the right venue for their dining dollars. This makes the decision about how many tables and chairs to buy less a question of strict “dollars per hour,” and more about increasing customer comfort and ensuring repeat business.
What Should I Look for When Purchasing Used Restaurant Furniture?
First, decide how important the atmosphere and function of your dining area is to the success of your restaurant. Some businesses need to operate as not just a place for a customer to buy food, but also as a place to relax, unwind, and ultimately have some kind of memorable experience.
Other types of businesses are focused more on turning tables as quickly as possible, or in some cases, reprioritizing eat-in service altogether. If your customers are popping in for a few to-go containers of shrimp lo mein, this makes interior design choices somewhat less important.
Next, look for furniture that contributes to the atmosphere and style you’re looking for. If you own a family restaurant, diner, steak house, or other casual type restaurant, a mixture of booths with chairs and tables provide a friendly and warm atmosphere.
Fine dining restaurants need to choose upgraded tables and chairs, to provide an elegant and more refined environment. Cafes will want to look for lightweight, solidly-built pieces that can be moved easily, to allow for different configurations of guests.
After you’ve been shopping for a little while for used restaurant furniture, you may find yourself thinking, “Now wait a minute. I can get four chairs from Ikea for the price of just one of these commercial chairs, and have enough money left over for a plate of meatballs with lingonberries.” Wholesale clubs, big box retailers, and Internet suppliers may offer residential or consumer-grade versions of the restaurant furniture you’re looking for, that seems to have similar features, at a fraction of the price. But this can be a costly mistake.
First, the joinery is often not designed for heavy use. Second, the finish on these tables and chairs is often residential grade, and usually won’t hold up to the raw cleaning power of commercial-grade cleaning products. But most importantly, the manufacturer has not tested the product for commercial use.
This means that noncommercial furniture is usually excluded from liability claims, which means that if a barstool breaks a table collapses, or a baby goes toppling out of a high chair, the manufacturer will have limited liability in the ensuing claim and you may find yourself being held 100% financially responsible. And if you think saving a few bucks on a chair is worth the risk, you have no idea what it costs to pay for someone else’s MRI.
Where Are Some Additional Places to Shop for Used Restaurant Furniture?
In addition to the listings on these pages, there are plenty of places almost everywhere in the country to begin your search for used restaurant furniture. Near almost every major city, there’s a used restaurant supply store, often with hundreds of options for in-stock furniture supplies including, tables, chairs, stools, booths, and almost anything else you can think of.
Unfortunately, we’ve found that the savings at these types of establishments often isn’t as good as it may seem; businesses like these tend to understand the value of what they’re holding in inventory, and price even secondhand goods similarly to their new counterparts.
Try a quick web search for used restaurant equipment auctions near you. Many times, when an establishment closes, they’ll retain an auction company to manage the sale of all of their equipment, including used furniture and decor items, in exchange for a portion of the proceeds.
While the condition of some of these items may be something of a wildcard, especially for long-running businesses that may not have updated their interiors since the 1970s, there are often great deals to be had on entire suites of dining room furniture.
Check your local classified ads or legal announcements for upcoming storage locker auctions, as well. Restaurants and commercial businesses are big customers of self-storage facilities, and often use rented storage space to store the overflow from their dining rooms. When the bills aren’t paid, the storage unit is auctioned off, which can mean big savings on a wide variety of used restaurant furniture.
It’s also worth checking with other restauranteurs in your area; anyone that’s recently remodeled probably has a bunch of tables in chairs in storage somewhere (since restaurant owners can never throw anything away). You might find that a similar business may have used furniture that you can get for a great price.