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Ordering Solid Wood Restaurant Tabletops: 8 Things Everyone Should Know

  1. Choose the right consultant.
  2. Selecting the right size restaurant tabletops.
  3. Choose a quality manufacturer.
  4. Choosing the right finish for your solid wood restaurant tables.
  5. Confirm your warranty covers warping or cupping.
  6. Get your inspectors approval.
  7. Order on time.
  8. Plan on how to receive your restaurant tabletops.

1. Choose the Right Consultant

For new construction or large scale remodel restaurant projects, we recommend you hire an experienced commercial architect or designer. These experienced consultants can help you with the many important factors such as ADA compliance, fire code, and spatial planning for functional work flow. Should you need to only replace the table tops of the same size in your existing restaurant, we are confident we can help you with those selections. Anything that requires more complex decision-making, we highly recommend working with a designer or architect with experience in the restaurant business. If you’d like we can recommend a few fantastic designers that we’ve worked with for years. Or you can find a professional interior designer at: www.asid.org/find-a-pro

Too often we receive phone calls from designers who have designed residential projects their entire career but have been asked as a favor to design a client’s restaurant. While this is done with only the best intention it can lead to disastrous results. Here’s a crash course in laying out a restaurant design that still only just scratches the surface of this complex undertaking: Laying out your Restaurant & Restaurant Tables

Just know, we are here to help you make product selections that will fit your restaurant style and can give suggestions on table top capacity.

2. Select the Right Size Tables

2-top, 4-top, and 6-top- it’s all short hand for table sizes but more often than not people don’t know what size tables this short hand represents or how large of a table is actually needed to fit 4 people comfortably for a full service meal. And in all cases each of those short hand terms represents a number of different sizes depending on the type of establishment and arrangement going on the table. So it’s very important to consider aisle size, chair style, length at which you want to serve your patrons, tableware and base style when choosing what size tables you need for your restaurant.

3. Choose a Quality Manufacturer

We have received so many calls from customers stating “I have a guy who knows a guy that makes cabinets that made my tables and, boy, did I make a mistake” or “The General Contractor on my project said he would take care of buying the tables for my restaurant and unfortunately that was a mistake as he made them himself.” Our advice is find someone that has been specifically devoted to crafting solid wood restaurant tables for 10+ years and can both show you a plethora of completed projects and provide you with a large enough sample to test the product for yourself. Your customers will judge their dining experience on more than just your food. A fantastic restaurant design & the perfect restaurant tables will improve your customers’ experience, elevate your restaurant, and have a direct, positive impact on your bottom line.

4. Know the Tops Have a Quality Finish

  • Choose a 2-part finish
  • Choose a solvent-based finish
  • Avoid water-based finishes, conversion finishes, wipe-on oil, and single component finishes
  • Get your finish approved by an inspector.
  • Know the product warranty

Remember, a wood restaurant table’s finish should be able to hold up to rigorous cleaning numerous times a day with harsh chemicals. Our experience has told us that every manufacturer should be required to apply a 2-part solvent-based Polyurethane. We would also recommend that your manufacturer provide you with professional testing data. The product we use has passed SEFA 8 testing which means it will hold up against the harshest chemicals available including both muriatic and sulfuric acid! Here’s a more in-depth look at what to AVOID in a table finish:

Water-Based Finish – While water-based finish is generally considered a more “green product” than its solvent-based counterparts, the short lifespan of said water-based finish leads to frequent refinishing which ultimately negates the efforts to protect our environment. This type of finish is susceptible to heat, most chemical cleaners, moisture and blunt force from flatware.

Conversion Varnish – This is the preferred finish of cabinet makers and is still the most widely used finish for restaurant manufacturers today. While this type of finish is great for vertical cabinet surfaces that require minimal cleaning, it is prone to breaking down after being cleaned hundreds of times. The worst part is that as a finish breaks down on a molecular level, it becomes the all-too-common sticky mess of a table that customers assume needs a more thorough cleaning, which in itself is a major problem. But it’s not just a problem of aesthetics; it’s a serious health issue as restaurant patrons are eating on a table coated in corroding chemicals. Beware, we’ve had dozens of manufacturers of this finish tell us how their conversion varnish is different and it’ll last longer or simply won’t break down. It doesn’t matter how you slice this loaf of bread, the chemicals that make up these products are almost always the same and therefore susceptible to the same break-down process from frequent cleanings.

Wipe-On Oil – It is rare to see this product nowadays as health inspectors simply won’t approve a tabletop finish that doesn’t provide a complete barrier coat. Not only is wipe-on oil unsanitary, but it also requires monthly maintenance. Even then, you will probably need to have it sanded down to the wood every couple of years. Examples of this finish include: Linseed Oil, Tongue Oil, Watco and Bona.

Single component finish – We often see this when a DIYer has tried to finish their own wood tables. This is the type of finish typically found at a big box store and it is simply not strong enough to withstand cleaning or even moderate use from your customers. The finish is one component of what should be a two-part product, meaning you mix part A with part B to create the finish needed to apply; this is the ONLY way you will get enough protection for years of use. Examples of this finish include: Varathane, Minwax and Shellac.

So your questions should include:

  • Is the finish a 2-part product?
  • Is it solvent based?
  • Has the finish been tested professionally for a restaurant and can you provide those test results?
  • What is the warranty?

5. Confirm the Warranty Covers Warping or Cupping

Simply put, to prevent wood from warping in your restaurant table tops you should:

  1. Avoid buying restaurant tabletops that are braced from the underside.
  2. Ensure that the underside is finished exactly the same way as the top.
  3. Know that they’ve used the right finish.

Keeping a table flat shouldn’t be something a restaurant owner should ever have to worry about, but here’s a more detailed look at what to avoid and what to look for to keep your restaurant table tops from warping:

Bracing on the underside – This is a sure sign that the manufacturer has issues or had issues with tables warping. Regardless of the bracing materials and methods used, we can unequivocally tell you that nothing will prevent wood from moving if it wants to. Even if wood was cut down 1,000 years ago, there are still fibers and cells that are alive and active. Understanding this is paramount to knowing what makes a restaurant table last.

Unfinished on the bottom side of the table – If your manufacturer isn’t using one of the finishes we’ve suggested, there will be a constant flow of moisture going into and out of your wood restaurant tables. If you don’t sand and seal the bottom in the same manner as you sanded and sealed the top, you will have moisture moving between the two surfaces at a problematically different rate, and your tables will certainly warp within a few years, if not sooner.

Using the wrong finish – Yes, believe it or not, just by using the right finish you can prevent 99.9% of the risk in a tabletop moving.

6. Inspector Approval

Ask your manufacturer to provide you with the data sheet for the finish as well as a sample to pass on to the inspector long before you order your tables. Not getting restaurant tables approved by an inspector could lead to disaster when the time comes to get your occupancy permit.

Several of the finishes listed as ones to avoid in step 4 will NOT be approved by some inspectors. This step is a fail-safe to make sure your selections won’t be rejected.

7. Know When to Order Restaurant Tables

In general, try to order your tables 4-6 weeks before you want the restaurant to open for your employee training and soft openings. Also, keep in mind that most manufacturers won’t start your order without both a signed contract and deposit.

One would think tabletop selection and ordering would be on the top of a restaurant owner’s list. If we only had a dollar for every call we’ve gotten that went something like this, “you’ll never believe this, but I’m opening my restaurant in a week and I forgot to order my tables!” Ordering well ahead of time ensures that you’ll have everything you need to complete your restaurant design in plenty of time before your grand opening. But with that said, we do understand these situations come up and we have our Quick Ship products available for such instances.

8. Plan on how you will receive your restaurant tables

Unless your manufacturer is local and you are able to pick up the products, your wood tabletops will most likely be delivered by an LTL (Less than a truckload) freight carrier. This means the shipment will be picked up from your manufacturer in crates, loaded onto an enclosed semi-trailer by a forklift, and delivered to your location. When the shipment is delivered, you will need to be available to receive. If the crate is less than 90 inches long, the driver will use the Lift Gate to lower the crate to the ground and help move the crate to your sidewalk or doorway. Should the crate exceed the 90 inches in length, it will need to be unloaded via loading dock, fork lift, or by hand. If unloading by hand, you will need to have ample people-power available to open the crate inside the trailer and hand offload. In both instances, you are responsible for unpacking the crates and moving the items in to your business.

Here is a video demonstrating both scenarios: Receiving your restaurant tables