There is no better way to welcome the warm weather than outdoor dining. Operating a patio or an outdoor rooftop space in your restaurant or foodservice operation can generate thousands of dollars in extra profits, as the additional space increases the number of tables your restaurant can serve without having to expand the inside.
A welcoming and inviting patio also helps to attract customers to your operation, as it can act as advertising for your restaurant.
In the past couple of decades, we have seen patio furnishings develop from simple wood or plastic tables and chairs, to plush sofas and armchairs. There are now several retailers and suppliers who offer fun, comfortable patio furniture for great prices. So setting up a patio at your restaurant operation can also be done on a relatively small budget.
If your restaurant has the ideal space to accommodate a front or back patio, or even a rooftop patio, check first with your city to see if you are able to obtain the proper permits to operate a patio. Then you can start to have fun with it.
Diane Chiasson, FCSI, President of Chiasson Consultants Inc., a restaurant and foodservice consultancy firm in Toronto, Canada, offers the following tips and ideas to make your restaurant’s patio the place to drink and eat this summer:
1. Give it a thorough cleaning
After a long, harsh winter, give your patio area a thorough cleaning. Make sure the sidewalk is free of gum and debris, the windows are washed, the fencing is touched up, and all the patio furniture is clean and in good condition, or paint it if it is looking worn out. If you are investing in new patio furniture, consider spraying it with a sealant or protector to ensure that it lasts for several more years.
2. Make it enticing and inviting
The design and décor of your outdoor patio is equally as important as the interior design of your restaurant. Since your front patio is the first thing customers will see when they approach your operation, it must also be inviting, and invoke your brand and story. Don’t just set up a few generic plastic tables and lawn chairs and call it a day. Choose a style, color scheme and theme that also runs inside your restaurant.
3. Be strategic with your seating plan
Ideally, you want to set up as many seats and tables as you can on your patio, but make sure your kitchen will be able to handle the extra covers. When setting up, consider the type of crowds you attract. If your restaurant caters to younger, larger groups of people, you might want to set up comfy couches and coffee tables for social gatherings. If your restaurant turns its tables several times in an evening, small café tables might work better. Consider purchasing patio furniture made of synthetic wood, teak or metal finish, or recycled wood/plastic composite. Not only are these materials comfortable and durable in all weather conditions, but they look good too.
4. Create shade
Make sure that your patio is equipped with umbrellas, tents or awnings to protect your customers from the elements. While a few people might enjoy dining with the hot sun shining on them directly, most people prefer to eat in the shade. There are several varieties of umbrellas you can easily purchase today that are ideal for restaurant patios. Many big-name retailers offer extra-large round or rectangular umbrellas with cantilevered arms that are much easier to set up and move around, and do not need to be put directly into the table. If space is an issue, consider installing pole-less umbrellas that are much easier to store over the winter. You can also consider installing a retractable awning that you can adjust to keep the sunlight in a perfect position throughout the day, or set up pop-up tents over your patio.
5. Keep the bugs out
Unfortunately, warm weather also brings out pesky bugs, insects and rodents. Consider installing screens around your patio to keep mosquitoes, bees and other insects from annoying your guests. Avoid decorating your patio with flowers that attract bees, and opt for hanging ferns or vines instead. You can also plant mosquito repellent plants around your patio like citronella grass or hang lanterns fitted with mosquito repellent. Ensure that your patio is clear of old dishes and garbage as well.
6. Use scent marketing
Draw in more customers by enticing them with smell. If possible, set up an outdoor barbecue grill or pit -- no one can resist the smell of freshly grilled meats, fish and vegetables. It will also provide some visual entertainment for your guests on the patio, like having an open kitchen.
7. Set up a rolling menu-board
Paper menus tend to blow away, get dirty or get stolen on patios, so consider setting up a rolling menu-board that you can move around your patio. Your menu and specials will be visible to all diners on the patio, and may also draw interest from people walking by.
8. Cater to the night time crowd
People tend to dine later in the evenings during the summer, so you might consider extending your kitchen hours. Have your chef develop a special late-night menu, and feature special wines, beers and cocktails. Also, ensure that your patio is lit properly. Use mini LED lights, hanging lanterns, flameless candles on tables or any other type of suitable lighting. Summer nights can also get chilly, so install propane heaters or offer guests blankets.
9. Ensure your staff can handle it
Make sure that both your front-of-house staff and kitchen staff are able to handle the extra covers that your patio may generate. Servers will have to walk a further distance to the kitchen to serve the patio, or may have to deal with stairs to a rooftop patio. Set up busing stations on the patio will make it easier for servers to refill water, or get extra napkins, cutlery, condiments and other requests. Service on the patio must also meet the high standards of service you offer inside your restaurant.
© 2013 Chiasson Consultants Inc. All rights reserved.
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