'Some of the best pubs appeal to different people for different things at the same time," we said of zoning in our recent run-down of 50 Things That Make Pubs Great .
"If you can have a dimly lit corner for the romantics and still get a group in for something more raucous, you're zoning well."
But the practice is not without its drawbacks. When the bar is packed to the rafters and buzzing with Friday fun, who wants to deal with complaints from the party-goers relegated to the quieter dining area because there's no space anywhere else?
David Broadhurst, property development manager for Charles Wells, is not a proponent of the "zoning in all pubs" school of design. "Pubs are as unique as those who drink or eat in them and how a pub is zoned — or not — should be determined by your customers' habits, the pub style and even the building itself," he says.
"Research is paramount when deciding if your pub should be zoned or not. Getting it wrong can have a detrimental effect on your profitability."
On the other hand, the rise of pub food and pubs as all-day venues means our buildings are used for more occasions than ever before. This means someone who comes in for a coffee on Wednesday morning wants a totally different experience when they come in on Friday night for their birthday, or arrive en famille for Sunday lunch.
And that Sunday lunch itself can range in occasion: from the hungover couple not wanting to cook (haven't booked, happy to order from, and sit in, the bar), to large family birthday celebration requiring something more formal (preferably pre-booked and with table service).
Therefore, as David concedes, "As drinkers' habits evolve, pubs must also to meet their demands. Changing your layout can help with this but research your options carefully so that when your work is complete you are attracting as many of the customers you want as possible."
Should you take the plunge, then, your starting point needs to be identifying the
occasions for which customers might come to your pub. Think about beers with the boys, couples for romantic meals, coffees with the girls or dinners with the kids, and set about creating spaces for each of them.
"The more spaces that you create the more reasons you're giving potential customers to come in and spend some money," explains Guy Bostock, director at pub design specialists Concorde BGW.
"It's really about simply using the building you have to maximise profit.
"We did a pub called The Cricketers in Woking, Surrey, a while ago, that had a narrow room, off which came several small rooms that were being used as back service areas. We knocked it all through and turned a section into a semi-private dining area, seating a maximum of eight, and it's now the most popular area in the pub. A zone like that can bring in an extra £30,000 to £50,000 a year in food and drinks sales on its own."
Making use of dead space makes good business sense, of course, but to really maximise revenue, you need to ensure the spaces you create are flexible.
Guys says: "Often when I show a new design to a client they point out, for example, that there's no big table for a party of 30 because, they say, 'we need that for Christmas Day'.
"But that's just one day of the year. You need spaces that work for you the rest of
the time as well. So think about solutions such as — in this instance — using smaller tables that can be bolted together to give you more flexibility."
Another important design tip is to ensure all the different spaces you create look like they belong together. It's not about looking like several entirely different businesses.
In this regard, fabrics and paint are your friends, says Alastair Scott, who runs The Square & Compass in Weeton, North Yorkshire, and The George Inn in Backwell, Bristol. He is also in the midst of plans and designs for what he hopes will be his third pub (planning permission pending).
"You have to give it all one heart," he explains.
"I will always use different furniture for each zone I create. So high tables and stools in drinking areas, un-laid tables for casual dining, upholstered dining chairs with arms for more formal meals, high tables and no seats for smokers outside and so on.
"However, I also use one fabric in several colourways through the whole floor; use the same palate of paint colours on the walls; similar soft furnishings throughout. Make it cohesive, not several totally different spaces, that's the design skill."
Interior design tricks can also be used to subtly suggest to punters to which areas they should be gravitating on that particular occasion — potentially sidestepping the issue of one area of the pub being more popular than any other.
"The heart of the pub is where the bar is, so that will always fill up first, but not everyone can be in the same spot. So you need to make your zones absolutely spot on for their intended market, so that they become self-selecting," Alastair says.
"If you create a family dining zone that has all the things families find desirable they will want to head straight there, leaving the bar for the drinkers, or for whomever you have designated it. And always, always put your best chairs in the worst areas — make people want to go and sit there."
London-based pub company Young's similarly employs what it terms "subtle tricks" to help in this regard, as operations director Craig Kennedy explains.
"It's about understated changes to décor from zone to zone and, with dining rooms in particular, it is signalling that the customer is entering a food area. So, for example, putting a host at a lectern, menus on the tables and set tables with cutlery and glassware."
And for these small changes a decent premium can be charged.
"We certainly see that dining rooms with great food and engaging service can charge more and customers are happy to pay it," Craig adds.
"Casual dining is something we have embraced at Young's as it grows in popularity. However there is still high demand to eat two or three courses in beautiful dining rooms with full table service."
And, really, how do you expect punters to enjoy that if they are seated cheek-by-jowl with a bunch of lads out for some beers, if it's not for clever zones?
And if you want to check out the other 49 things that make pubs great, take a look here