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An Essential Guide to Outdoor Dining Service

When given the option, diners often choose to eat their meals and enjoy their beverages in an outdoor setting. It’s an opportunity for them to experience a more relaxed atmosphere, accompanied by fresh air and sunshine. For small businesses, such as restaurants, bars and craft breweries, the outdoor gathering is a great way to turn additional tables and increase profits.

Whether you're in the Midwest – where making the most of every spring day and summer night is a priority – or you’re fortunate enough to experience comfortable weather year-round, expanding your restaurant or brewery with a patio or rooftop terrace requires more than simple access to additional square footage. Adequate preparation, design work and planning are also part of that recipe for success.

FIRST STEPS

If the building your business occupies is being leased, the first stop should be with the landlord. Bring them up to speed on your plans for any modifications that may increase the property value or present additional insurance liability risks. Enlist your local zoning commission to verify that all construction permits are completed and reviewed for approval before breaking ground. Consult with your local health department about the legal ramifications of tobacco use and the allowance of pets. And if alcohol is a part of your plan, make sure that outdoor service is covered by your liquor license.

patio tables

Taking advantage of this new (or newly enhanced) space to drive traffic is the end goal. The math adds up – providing your customers with a greater number of seating options and a larger outdoor space should result in additional business. However, adding a patio space needs to be more than just a concrete slab and a few patio tables and chairs. The design of your new space needs to be smart and consistent with your already established business model.

Consider the various entrances to the main building and access points to your patio or terrace. Where will your service staff be most active? Always keep your employees top of mind so that serving customers from the new patio doesn’t become a burden. Will there be a full-service bar or perhaps a grill included in the design? If so, verify that the new space can accommodate for it and that it doesn’t result in overcrowding or a reduction in planned seating capacity.

While a thoughtful design is essential for your staff to operate effectively and efficiently, the atmosphere you provide your guests is just as important. Whether your patio exhibits a classically rustic look or one that aims to be more modern, make sure that it properly aligns with the rest of your branding. Don’t stray too far from what has already made your business successful. The ambiance needs to be consistent for both groups of customers: those that request an indoor table and those that prefer dining with the sun on their face or enjoy an evening under the stars.

THE FINER DETAILS

The use of appropriate lighting at night will help to emphasize the experience and mood you are trying to create. Consider offering your guests a greater degree of privacy and seclusion through the use of dividers, planters or a well-made wooden fence. This sends a warm and inviting message to customers passing by and excellent photo opportunities to help promote your business through social media and on your website.

Chairs, barstools, tables and umbrellas. They each play a vital role in the level of comfort you provide your guests. As might be expected, there is also a wide variety of options to choose from when it comes to selecting your patio furnishings. When making your selection, it's important to consider the longevity, sturdiness and of course the aesthetics of the furniture before making any decisions. Know the dimensions of your patio and understand how much space you're working with before deciding what furniture to buy.

 Keeping your customers comfortable is just as important as the meals they are served. Balmy weather can quickly and unexpectedly turn to cooler temperatures. Be prepared and consider the variety of patio heating options that will not only keep your customers comfortable and content, but allow you to extend your patio season as summer days inevitably transition to fall temperatures. As luck would have it, there are a number of heating options – electric, natural gas and propane – available to help continue to boost the bottom line.

 SAFELY SERVE YOUR GUESTS IN STYLE

 Accidents happen. Plates are dropped and glasses knocked over, more often that you might think. Even a strong gust of wind could unexpectedly tip over a table full of dinnerware. And outside, where a cushioned interior floor is likely replaced with unforgiving concrete or stone, these accidents amount to even greater replacement costs. Knowing your options when stocking up on your patio dinnerware, glassware and barware can make a significant difference.

outdoor dining dinnerware

Depending on the ambiance and style of your patio’s design, consider replacing fine china with Melamine dishware. Made from an organic industrial compound, Melamine is a hard plastic that is dishwasher safe, tolerant of both hot and cold uses and incredibly difficult to break. Similarly, a thick and durable, yet nicely designed plastic glassware is a great solution for a variety of drinks. Combined with a classy table setting – including quality flatware, linen tablecloth and an inspired centerpiece – your guests won't even notice the difference.

MAINTAIN CLEANLINESS

It’s inevitable. Whether you’re in the middle of the city or off the beaten path, unwelcome guests – those that fly, crawl and scurry – will eventually crash your party. Birds will perch on umbrellas, insects will hover over plates and the occasional chipmunk will invite itself to the table. But a diligent wait staff can work together to ensure things don’t get out of control and take a turn for the worse. Maintain a rigid cleaning routine, clear tables of food and drinks as soon as the guest leaves and consider hiring pest control, for routine and regular service.

Demonstrate that hygiene is a top priority for both your guests and waitstaff. Think about the issues that will put everyone’s mind at ease. Ensure that every table has a consistently full bottle of hand sanitizer and, if space allows, consider adding portable handwashing stations. Recent events have identified a need for more readily available hand washing stations throughout the food and beverage industry; both at the back of the house, as well as the front. Offer your customers a heightened sense of health and safety while, at the same time, giving your staff the convenience to maintain greater hygiene.

ATTRACTING CUSTOMERS

After spending time and energy breathing life into your new patio space, it’s time to introduce this project to your customers and run it through its ultimate test. The following is a list of engaging and creative opportunities for you to enrich your outdoor patio dining and beverage experience and stand out from the competition.

  • A Festive (and festival-like) Experience: Regardless of city or state, one thing they all have in common is an abundance of festival activities. From major holidays to art and crafting events, people love a good festival. Coordinate your existing menu options and appetizers with new recipes that thematically align with local festivals. Drive traffic and show your support for the community and the annual events that make your city great.
  • Thirst-Quenching Drinks: Just as important as the food on your menu, drink specials can also deservedly take the spotlight; especially during the summer months when customers are thirstier and looking for new options to cool off from the heat. Think beyond the standard drink menu and share your creativity by offering a variety of interesting and original beverages. Your drink specials will help increase the average spend of your customer and improve the overall image of your business by providing a more comprehensive offering. 
  • Live Music: It’s always a good idea to have background music playing for your guests to enjoy. But when the summer is heating up and your customers are taking things outdoors, consider offering live music as they enjoy their time on your patio. If you have the space, designate an area for local musicians to setup and entertain your guests. Coordinate the style of music with any special menu items as a way to complement the experience. Not only does this give your customers a lasting memory, it also helps support your local music scene.
  • Pet-Friendly: People love their pets… a lot! Encourage your customers to bring ‘Fido’ and ‘Spot’ along with them the next time they visit and relax on your patio. Take advantage of your proximity to local dog parks, groomers and pet stores and advertise on your website and in-house that your patio is open to both human and canine alike. Consider working with local pet shops to promote each other’s business and help spread the word. Be smart about your space and know how much room you’ll need to accommodate for our four-legged companions. Bring a separate bowl of water and perhaps a treat for the dogs when serving your customers. Plenty of people research locations that allow pets and will come to your patio simply because their dogs are also invited.
  • Dinner and a Movie: The outdoor drive-in was been a part of our pop culture for decades. Why not offer your customers an evening of dinner, drinks and a movie under the stars. If your patio space will allow for it, setting up a moderately-sized movie screen and projector is easier than you might think. Dedicate a themed evening of food and beverages that enhances the movie experience. Advertise well in advance but also have a back-up plan for those evenings when mother nature might have something else to say about it.
  • Embrace Technology: The utilization of social media is a great way to promote your business. Customer experience should always come first, but never take your eye off the ball. Continue to embrace social technology and develop an outdoor patio menu that encourages customer engagement through the digital medium. Make your meals and drinks lively, exciting and photo ready. Encourage customers to share your recipes on their Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts. Be sure to share and promote on your app and website. Make it fun, turn it into a contest and give your guests an incentive to help promote your restaurant’s patio dining experience.

dining outdoors on patio

MANAGE THE WAITLIST

Effectively managing your customer’s time through proper waitlist technology is paramount to the continued success of your business. Gone are the days when the host or hostess would simply write down you name as next in line or hand out a buzzer when your table was finally available. Over the years, things have become more sophisticated through the use of text messages, App integration or similar programs.

Your customers have busy lives. They are no longer interested in waiting in a crowded lobby for an available table at your new patio or terrace. This is where technology is capable of lending a much-needed helping hand and dramatically simplify the process of running and managing an effective waitlist.

Advancements in waitlist technology helps you to better manage your peak operating times by establishing more accurate wait times based on different table sizes. In doing so, you’ll be able to more actively advise your guests through direct messaging when their previously reserved table is ready; freeing them up to continue about their day and their activities.

MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR NEW SPACE

Offer your guests the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors while serving them your latest recipes, thoughtfully paired with your most creative drink specials. Give them an experience to remember and, more importantly, share with their friends and family.

promote your restaurant

Enhancing your restaurant, bar or craft brewery to provide an alfresco experience will attract more customer to your business. The added seating, from a more relaxed and engaging environment, has the potential to turn additional tables while enhancing the bottom line.

Contact a Boelter industry expert to learn more about the advantages of developing your own patio or terrace space and how those updates may positively affect your business.

View this guide as a PDF here.

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