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Jan 21, 2010 04:03 PM

What's the average size of a restaurant in San Francisco?

I get the feeling that restaurants in SF are much smaller than people are used to in other areras of the country.... does anyone know where I could find statistics to check out my theory?


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  1. The SF building inspection or public health departments should have the info.

    1. if you compare them to restaurants in other densely populated urban areas, i don't really think you'll find too much of a difference. if you compare them to restaurants in suburban areas with cheaper retail space available, absolutely.

      5 Replies
      1. re: vulber

        Yes, I think you're right. I work at a hotel, and even though my guests may say they're from Chicago, they're usually from the suburbs. They are frequently shocked at the (small) size of SF restaurants, and amazed that you may need reservations at many of the popular restaurants even if it's Wednesday (or January or 6 pm or ....).

        One of my favorite instances happened recently when I was playing "Name that Restaurant" with a guest, who was describing something as "a little, tiny, neighborhood, hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant" which turned out to be Perbacco. That's when it dawned on me that my idea of tiny was perhaps not the same as that of my guests.

        1. re: waldrons

          "Hole in the wall"? Doesn't that also imply something a lot more downscale than Perbacco? However, I'm guessing they didn't realize Perbacco has an upstairs.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            Sounds like a reasonable assumption. Perbacco seats 130 plus another 40 in the bar area. That's not "tiny" by any standards, suburban or not. Besides, maintaining high quality and consistency is nontrivial for a fine dining establishment even at that size. How many really great fine dining places are there in the U.S. that have more than 200 seats? Probably not an awful lot compared to the number that are in the 50-or-less to150 seat range.

            1. re: nocharge

              How many really great fine dining places are there in the U.S. that have more than 200 seats?
              I'm guessing none (table seating, not including bar/lounge seats). When you're turning out that many meals it's impossible to maintain that high quality and consistency you mentioned. Even in Las Vegas where everything is supersized, the high-end fine dining places are smaller.

          2. re: waldrons

            send them to Yamo, I'd be curious how they'd describe that

          1. re: steve h.

            My theory is that people from elsewhere are used to larger (probably chain) restaurants, and are a little fazed by how small some of our restaurants are. So I was trying to find statistics of average restaurant size (by max seating capacity) for here versus, say, Orange County.

            1. re: waldrons

              I'm 99% certain that the average SF restaurant is smaller than the average OC restaurant. Like others have mentioned, comparing SF to a large suburb isn't really saying much. Most people are from the suburbs, so it stands to reason that most people are used to having bigger spaces (bigger homes, bigger cars, bigger restaurants). My guests are often very surprised about needing a reservation a week or more in advance for the most popular places.

              I would be more curious to see how SF restaurant sizes compare to other cities, perhaps cities especially known for cuisine: Manhattan, Chicago, Vancouver, New Orleans, or to restaurants in big cities in other countries.

          2. If you really want to get into it, you simply need to find the average square footage of commercial store front spaces in SF. My guess is something like 20' X 70' to 90', or around 1,400 to 1,800 SF.

            Most store fronts and neighborhood commercial layouts in SF were established pre-WWII which are the bulk of SF restaurants. The size of store fronts parallel the size of housing, when people lived on a much smaller scale.

            The exceptions are larger space on major commerce areas like Market, Van Ness, etc. and conversions (example, warehouse space in SOMA, Ferry Bldg, etc).

            1. While Koi Palace is not fine dining, and I personally find it to be overrated (but still very good), it still frequently wins awards for the being among the best Chinese restaurants in the country (which I naturally disagree with) while seating upwards of 400. I'd imagine there might be similar ones in the Vancouver/BC area.

              In general though, I would agree that it is extremely hard to maintain consistency while serving that many people. One restaurant that's impressed me in terms of turning out high quality while serving lots of people is NOPA, although even they only have 104 seats (I think), but do 400-500 covers a night.

              2 Replies
              1. re: vulber

                Chinese food is different, though, in that each dish that's cooked serves many people. So, for example, at a traditional banquet for 400 at tables of ten, there are only 40 dishes being cooked for each course, not 400, as it would be in a Western style restaurant where each diner's plate is prepared individually.

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  I realize as much. Nonetheless, there are still quite a few Chinese places that struggle with high capacity.