How Tiny Is Too Tiny for a Restaurant?

Rachel Tepper Paley

A tiny restaurant in Portugal. Photo credit: Stuart Barr/Flickr

Like to linger over your burrito? That probably won’t be an option at a new spate of takeout-style Chipotle restaurants that, according to a Monday announcement, will dispense with the seating options available at most of the chain’s current shops.

Chipotle’s chief financial officer, Jack Hartung, described the shops as “really, really small, scrappy restaurants.”

But how small is too small?

Architect Thaddeus Briner, who has a played a major role in crafting Chipotle’s design aesthetic over the last six years, is skeptical that a restaurant without seating is a good idea.

"I feel like these restaurants are public spaces. You have thousands of people going in there every day. You have an opportunity to engage with them," Briner told us. "That’s a responsibility, I think, for a place that’s catering to so many people." (Briner is not involved with the new takeout-style design, though he continues to work on design for Chipotle’s Asian ShopHouse concept.)

Briner is a fan of modestly sized restaurants. “The smaller ones tend to feel more intimate, and there’s a better energy in there,” he said. A size of about 2,000 square feet—roughly twice the size of an average American apartment—is the “sweet spot.”

On Facebook and Twitter, opinions were split.

"[One] restaurant I worked at fit 38 people, but people still had to wait up to 2.5 hours to get in," wrote reader Dennis Shyu. "When customers have to wait that long, that’s definitely an indicator to expand."

“I have to be comfortable in a restaurant,” echoed reader Cam Traviss. “[I] can not stand cramped spaces where people are 10 inches from your meal.”

Others, however—including Briner—admitted that the lunchtime scarf-and-dash crowd may not miss seats at the new Chipotle layout, so long as the food remains on point. 

"There is no too tiny, only too tasteless!" tweeted Dan Friedman, managing editor of The Jewish Daily Forward.

“I’m currently in Europe and some Turkish doner places or ice cream places have no seats, but it doesn’t stop me,” offered reader Kevin Hulse. “The only time I avoid a place is [when] their food sucks.”