Outdoor dining spaces can increase revenue by as much as 30 percent or more, according to a report from The Chicago Tribune.
It’s no surprise that so many restaurants are investing in exterior eating areas — particularly when you factor in research from the Simons Advisory Group indicating that a $200,000 investment in outdoor seating boosts overall sales by $500,000.
But it’s not just a matter of dragging a few chairs and tables out onto the patio and calling it a day. The following eight tips are an important part of creating an outdoor oasis aimed at enhancing exposure and boosting sales.
1. Plan From the Inside Out
The best outdoor dining spaces align with both the interior decor and the brand of a restaurant. After all, diners don’t just come for the food, but also for the ambiance, so delivering a consistent experience is key.
While you don’t have to completely replicate your main dining room, carrying over your color scheme, textures, and accessories can help create a seamless transition from interior to exterior. For example, if your restaurant interior is classic and romantic, elements like twinkle lights, a fireplace and fresh-cut flowers can carry over the theme.
2. Weather the Weather
While it’s important to choose furniture that complements your restaurant’s style, it’s equally important to seek out all-weather pieces which will hold up to heat, rain, and other harsh conditions.
If your restaurant is in a region where bad weather is the norm, meanwhile, be realistic about whether investing in outdoor seating for limited use is practical.
Offering shelter in the form of umbrellas, canopies, heat lamps and outdoor cooling systems can help extend the life of your outdoor space while ensuring that diners are cozy in winter and cool in summer.
3. Keep Things Comfortable
While outdoor spaces offer the added benefit of increasing the capacity of your restaurant, resist the temptation to pack in as many diners as possible.
Space tables at arm’s length to ensure that guests can focus on their own dining experience free of surrounding distractions.
4. Make Service Central
Just because outdoor dining spaces are usually a trek from restaurant kitchens doesn’t mean they should be secondary to interior dining areas. Improper planning can lead to delays and disappearing servers.
Make sure outdoor tables are adequately staffed with servers and food runners dedicated exclusively to the patio area.
Some restaurants also opt to create a space midway between the kitchen and dining area for servers to stock up on go-to items, such as bread baskets, water pitchers and silverware.
5. Draw Diners In
While al fresco dining is popular, restaurants can maximize their impact by implementing outside-only promotions, including everything from happy hour food specials to signature patio drinks.
Have a sizable outside area? A festive beer garden can generate buzz while attracting new clients to your establishment.
6. Know the Rules and Regulations
From code compliance issues to local smoking restrictions, ordinances vary depending on your restaurant’s location. Before pursuing your patio plans, make sure to look into your city and/or state laws for outdoor dining spaces.
7. Have a Plan B
While many restaurants stick with walk-in policies for outdoor dining areas, others rely on reservations as a convenience for their guests.
If you opt for the latter, you’ll need a backup plan in the case of poor weather: Some restaurants don’t take outdoor reservations if the weather forecast looks suspicious; others designate a few available indoor tables in case of bad weather.
8. Update Often
As with your main dining room, patios and other outdoor dining spaces can grow stale. The National Restaurant Association recommends updating your patio every five to seven years to keep it fresh.
From sidewalk seating to rooftop dining, there are many options when it comes cultivating enticing alfresco dining experiences for today’s diners.
Not sure whether the concept is right for your restaurant? Start with a small-scale tryout, such as limited sidewalk seating, before expanding to a full-fledged outdoor dining space.