Warm weather is quickly approaching, and so is the return of outdoor dining. The COVID-19 pandemic caused restaurants to get creative with their patio space, and it became a necessity to remain open for business. With restrictions easing up, outdoor dining spaces are becoming more permanent and a staple for attracting customers to restaurants.
According to Jeff Caldwell of Superior Shade, a simple deck or patio can increase revenue by up to 30%. Additionally, the Simons Advisory Group research proved that a $200,000 investment increased overall sales by $500,000 - even more if seating is year-round.
Outdoor dining can range from a simple sidewalk space to rooftop bars. To make the most of this patio season, here are a few ways to revamp your current patio or create a new one and how to make it a profitable outdoor dining space.
1. Start Slow, Then Grow
If your restaurant is new to the patio game, it's best to start by adding a few tables to get your operations adjusted to going outside. Depending on the style of your business, there are a few things you will need to decide when creating your outdoor space. Will your servers take your customers' orders outside? Will your patio be picnic-style? Is your staff going to take the food outside to them?
Recent data shows that 84% of consumers favor restaurants setting up outdoor spaces on sidewalks, streets, and parking lots permanently. Many cities have relaxed permitting for outdoor dining, so it's crucial to take advantage of this opportunity.
Check your local regulations to see what's possible and grow your patio as demand from your guests follows.
2. Be Prepared for All Weather
Rain or shine, a good patio is built to last throughout all the weather changes. Summer is around the corner, but the weather fluctuates no matter where you're at.
Warm weather is what attracts people to dine outside, but sometimes the heat can be overbearing. Your patio needs to be equipped with the right equipment to keep your guests cool. Here are a few things you can do to make this happen:
- Use umbrellas or patio covers to offer plenty of shade
- Place fans or misters along your roofline to encourage airflow
- Keep a supply of sunscreen to provide for your guests
- Set up patio heaters for chilly summer nights
Restaurant sales tend to decrease when it rains for many reasons. The Journal of Foodservice Business Research found that weather affects the volume of customers going to restaurants and their mood. This means when the weather is unpleasant, customers will be more critical of your restaurant. Similar to the tips above, here are a few ways to prep your patio for the rainy days:
- Get a patio awning that can stretch out to cover your patio
- Develop a patio storm plan
- Wipe down tables and chairs after rain to protect your furniture
- Install a built-in waterproof deck cover
- Place retractable transparent vinyl curtains on your patio windows and walls
As many restaurants are expanding their outdoor space, something to keep in mind is to try to plan ahead. When you're buying outdoor heaters or additional tables, try to do it at the time of year when others are not. Demand is high, and long lead times can put your patio on pause.
3. Choosing the Right Furniture & Decor
Outdoor furniture is an essential element to your patio space. You want your patio to embrace the energy of "Come join us!"
Restaurant Development + Designs shares that a crucial factor to your outdoor furniture is durability. Tables and chairs need to withstand the elements of UV rays, extreme temperatures, and moisture. Your location also plays a role in these elements. For example, salty ocean air can cause corrosion and rust on raw steel and cast-iron surfaces. Here are some dos and don'ts when choosing outdoor furniture:
- Powder-coated steel or aluminum
- Teak and redwood wood types are more suitable for not retaining heat
- UV protected plastic
- Concrete, cast iron, fabricated steel, and polymer are heavier but sturdy choices
- Fabrics must be exterior grade, such as PVC mesh, wicker, and polyester
- Chairs with removable cushions
- Plywood, walnut, and most other woods are not weather resistant
- Metal and copper retain heat
- Light-colored fabrics will require more routine cleaning versus dark-colored or busy patterns
Over an extended amount of time, your patio furniture will show normal wear and tear. But, investing in proper tables and chairs while also taking care of them will help them hold their value and boost your bottom line.
Your decor is another aspect that is crucial to your patio's success. The outdoor dining space is an extension of your indoor space and should reflect the same ambiance and brand. Some easy outdoor decor ideas are adding vases with flowers, plants, lanterns, and string lights. Think of things that are going to catch people's eyes as they're walking by.
4. Establish a Pet Policy
One of the first things you should do when opening up an outdoor space is establishing a pet policy. Becoming a dog-friendly restaurant has its ups and downs. Some diners may be allergic to dogs, and others can find them distracting when they're trying to enjoy their meal.
As of 2021, 17 states have laws or administrative regulations that allow patrons to bring their dogs to outdoor dining spaces. There are health codes and permits that need to be taken into consideration, and these also can vary by city and county laws.
Create your pet policy with what you believe fits your restaurant style best. Also, establish rules such as keeping them on a leash and don't allow them in walkways.
5. Embrace Outdoor Events
Diners like to spend more time outside in the spring and summer. So, outdoor entertainment is one of the easiest ways to draw them in and increase your revenue. Events are also a great way to stand out in the competitive industry.
In Fort Worth, Texas, The Lakehouse restaurant gives its guests numerous events to join them in. For example, they have Trivia Tuesdays, Karaoke Wednesdays, and a live music lineup every week.
During COVID, outdoor events are a safe way to allow people to gather in the open air and have a good time and also bring back a sense of normalcy.
6. Streamline Outdoor Service with Technology
The tables added for outdoor dining are sometimes further away than your usual operations. This can decrease your speed of service by taking more steps to take orders and deliver food and drinks outside. But, with a mobile point of sale, like CAKE OrderPad, this doesn't have to be the case.
Investing in mobile technology will empower your servers to deliver faster and more efficient service. They can take orders tableside and fire them straight to the kitchen, handling multiple table orders within the same period, without having to walk back and forth to your terminal inside. With more time to upsell and engage with your customers, technology is a must for streamlining service.
With the OrderPad solution, servers have the most up-to-date menu in their hands, as it reflects the same interface and updates as your CAKE Point of Sale. Guests can pay at the table and even split checks as they'd like.
As you can see, creating a profitable patio space is an investment and takes time. Start slow, invest in proper equipment, and use technology to run a more efficient restaurant.
Check out our Restaurant Seasonality Checklist to get more ideas your restaurant can use for a successful summer season.