Once you’ve outfitted your kitchen in tens of thousands (or potentially hundreds of thousands) of dollars worth of the latest in state-of-the-art cooking equipment and appliances, designed for high-output efficiency while keeping you line cooks happy and comfortable, you might be tempted to think that the bulk of your spending is finally winding down. That is, until you gaze out into the empty dining room, and realize: You’ve gotta come up with someplace for all of those hungry customers to sit.

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Quality dining tables.

A restaurant’s furniture is an often overlooked component of any restaurant, diner, deli, or convenience store, that can have a big impact on both the atmosphere of your establishment, and the comfort of your customers. Populate your otherwise gorgeous interior with plastic promotional furniture with beer logos plastered all over it, or cheap, pressboard furniture not designed to withstand the rigors of a commercial environment, and you risk not just alienating customers, but also yearly repairs or replacement for chairs that break or fail.

As you examine the options for purchasing restaurant tables, you’ll quickly realize that this is one area of purchasing where you can drop a big bundle of dough unexpectedly. Restaurant tables are usually sold independently from their bases.

Add in the cost of chairs, and it’s easy to rack up a $500 bill per four-top…and that’s just for entry-level furniture. Multiply that figure by ten or 20 tables, and your dining furniture purchases can quickly eat up a big portion of your budget.

Fortunately, buying used restaurant tables can be a smart place to save money on your restaurant’s interior design. By their nature, restaurant tables are solidly built and should be able to withstand years of service, without bearing too many battle scars. But where do you begin your search? We’ve rounded up our best tips and tricks, to make your search for used restaurant tables just a little bit easier.

How Do I Figure Out Which Used Restaurant Tables are Right For Me?

Table at a Chinese restaurant.

When choosing tables for your restaurant, your decision making is probably going to involve three key factors.

How large is your space? Figuring out how many tables you need is an important first step. The size of the room you’re trying to fill will help you figure out what style you’re looking for, the size of the individual tables, and how many pieces you’ll need to provide optimal comfort for your guests, and workflow efficiency for your staff. The goal is always to maximize the number of tables you can install, while keeping the space safe, comfortable and functional.

According to a 2010 study, closer tables may help you keep customers moving through your business, but it dramatically reduces their overall comfort level. Diners at tables that are 20 inches or less apart “generally expressed lower satisfaction in almost every category” including food, friendliness of service and the wisdom of having chosen that restaurant. They ended up spending more per minute because they left sooner than people at four-tops, but they were significantly less likely to return, the study said. This makes the decision about how many tables to purchase less about pure financials, and more about consumer comfort.

What is the aesthetic you’re going for? The style and atmosphere of your restaurant will play a big role in the types of used restaurant tables you choose. 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.

How much is left in your budget? For most of us, budgetary considerations will be a big part of any used restaurant table purchase. The cost of tables and chairs adds up quickly and unexpectedly; determine the exact minimum amount of furniture you require and figure out how much it will cost for the items you would ideally like to have in your business. Once you have this number in mind, you can then determine if you will need to consider cheaper furniture, or if you can add additional pieces.

Additional Considerations When Buying Used Restaurant Tables

Used Outdoor Restaurant Tables.

Don’t be tempted by consumer or residential grade tables. As you watch the estimate grow for your commercial restaurant tables, you may be tempted to use an alternative from a big box store, Internet retailer, or a certain Swedish furniture and meatball manufacturer.

After all, these options usually look great, and may appear to be very similar to tables designed for restaurant use. But in spite of the great prices, these types of tables will lead to financial ruin in the long run. First, the joinery is often not designed for heavy use. Second, the finish 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 tables are usually excluded from liability claims, which means that if a table full of hot clam chowder collapses onto the laps of your guests, the manufacturer will have limited liability in the claim and you will be 100% financially responsible.

Consider buying universal fit bases with different tops. There’s a reason many commercial restaurant tables are sold in two pieces: Bases and tops. The general thinking is that a heavy steel table base is practically indestructible; buy it once, and you can always swap out a new tabletop when the old one gets damaged, stained, or chipped, or simply when your aesthetic evolves and changes.

This can be another great way to save money in the used furniture market; you can always buy inexpensive table bases from a used restaurant supply company or online auction, and then purchase new tabletops to fit on top.

Choose furniture that’s easy to clean. Before a potential customer admires the pedigree of your reclaimed barn wood tabletop, he or she is going to notice if it’s dirty.

That’s why it’s important to look for tables that are easy to wipe down and clean, and that can withstand the harsh cleaning agents typically employed in a commercial setting. Often, this means choosing tabletops made of smooth melamine, stone or wood; think twice about tabletops with tile inlays (which can foster mold growth) or tables with lots of nooks and crannies that will be difficult for cleansers to penetrate.

Great bargains on used restaurant tables can be found in unusual places.

Used coffee shop tables sitting in storage.

You’ve probably already considered the options available by scouring the scratch-and-dent section of your local used restaurant supply store. But there are many more places to conduct your search for bargain used restaurant tables.

Search for used equipment auctions near you; many restaurants which are going out of business commission an auction company to manage the sale of all of their equipment, including interior items like tables and chairs.

Check your local newspaper listings 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 used restaurant tables. 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’t ever throw anything away). You might find that a similar business may have used furniture that you can get for a great price.