By Megan Prevost
By July, most restaurants are deep into their summer patio season. But are you making the most of your outdoor space?
Having an outdoor seating option is a huge draw for any local restaurant and even more so when the patio itself has added features not found within the regular restaurant.
Setting up a patio itself is pretty easy conceptually. With a little design know-how and some work, putting the space together is a quick process. But simply having a patio is only the first step towards generating the appeal you need to bring summer revellers out in droves.
If you want to bring the party to your patio, here are some quick tips to help maximize its appeal.
Think about the details
When putting together your patio, the space itself is the platform you have to build from. Don’t be haphazard about your design choices; take the time to make sure that you’re maintaining a consistent aesthetic with the rest of your space. If you have the option to build or extend bar service to the outdoor area, it’s worth considering seriously. Even an outdoor service well for your servers can help grease the wheels of an evening service. If the option exists for outdoor bar seating, this is one of the most attractive options for many diners.
Beyond the aesthetic, think about the realities of dining outside. Is there a way to proactively avoid the inevitability of flies, mosquitoes, or other outdoor pests? Do you have fans or devices to help keep your diners and staff cool? Doing the work to create a comfortable dining environment on the front end will help you avoid problems down the line. Creating that environment in advance means memories of good experiences, and that leads to repeat diners in the weeks (and potentially even years) to come.
Hype it up
With your patio established, the next and most obvious step is the one that’s central to any part of generating restaurant appeal: you’ve got to get the word out. Have your servers offer to direct guests to the patio as they enter or start dropping slick flyers alongside cheques or receipts advertising the patio.
To make a strong impression, adding a promotion to flyers like these alongside a coupon that applies specifically to dining on the patio is a great way to increase the hype. Make posts on your business’ social media using the same branding to maintain a consistent aesthetic. Don’t hesitate to use physical signage, too. Deploying a sandwich board on a sidewalk might be a little bit old-school, but it still catches eyes, even those of folks driving by.
Bring the fun
If you’re really hoping to drive business toward your patio, make it a unique experience compared to indoor dining! Patios tend to cultivate an atmosphere of spontaneity and relaxation, and this should be reflected in the way you curate your outdoor experience.
If you plan to provide bar service on your patio, consider adding a special menu that applies exclusively to outdoor diners, like a patio happy hour or even a weekend brunch. Some businesses, like juice bars, lend themselves perfectly to walk-up windows with ample seating. Keep leaflet-style menus available to grab easily to catch the interest of potential customers. If you can offer entertainment like live music or other entertainment, explore your options! As long as the show doesn’t disrupt the cohesion of your environment, you’re only adding value to a guest’s experience and enticing them to return.
Keep an ear out
Every major city has events near and dear to their hearts. Festivals, sporting events, concerts — no matter what’s happening in town, a summer patio is one of the best places to go before or after events. If you have an eye on the calendar, you’ll have the chance to plan certain specials revolving around events. If, for example, a series of playoff games is taking place in your hometown, offer a curated menu that gives guests a fixed menu with simple options.
By doing this, you have the experience fine-tuned and have the chance to expose them to the quick hits of your menu. You can also focus on a set timeframe. The pre-fixe menu could run until a half-hour from the beginning of a game. While this example is very specific, there’s no upper limit on the best way to tie your patio into community events. Guests could bring in tickets or programs and receive 10 per cent off a meal, too. Patios are also a great place for viewing parties, so set up some screens and bring the community together for a viewing party and an after-party.
Remember your team
The patio is likely to be a much more active, fast-paced environment than the quieter space inside. It’s important to bear this in mind when deciding which of your team members are best to staff this environment. These folks need to be your A players, who can comfortably keep the pace quick and feel congruent with the atmosphere.
Keeping this in mind, keep them hydrated and incentivized to feel positive. If they’re able to enjoy their shift at work, they’re going to pass on that positivity to your guests. Consider incorporating a short extra training for working on the patio specifically, to make sure they’re a good fit for the space. If necessary, make sure there are bespoke support staff just for the patio to keep the pace brisk.
On top of that, you should also ensure that staff are prepared to work long hours in the heat. Customers need to stay cool, but so do your staff! Patio workers may need more breaks, a stash of sunscreen, or even a personal fan to keep them cool on hot nights.
Reap the rewards
With a little effort and planning, patios can add dimensions to the dining experience in your space. You don’t want to simply create a space with more chairs, but outside. By digging into ensuring the patio experience has a separate appeal, you give your regulars a new way to experience their favourite spot or could attract folks who might not normally think about your business.
With some attention to detail, some fun ideas, and a great staff, you can turn your summer patio into the talk of the town.
Megan Prevost is a contributing writer for RestoBiz and a Content Manager for MustHaveMenus. Her work has also appeared in App Institute, Bar Business, Modern Restaurant Management, Small Business Currents, PMQ, FSR, The Daily Fandom, and FanSided.