By Doug Radkey
Patio. Season. Two words that signal the end of a cold winter. Two words everyone looks forward to, including that of local restaurant owners. If your restaurant property is lucky enough to have this additional space and seating, it’s critical to take advantage of this revenue generating opportunity.
Outside of making it enticing, inviting, and clean with new patio furniture, there are numerous ways you can step up your patio game. There should be more to it than just wiping down the tables, setting up the chairs, and sweeping the ground of the past winter.
Let’s jump right in to the seven strategies to keep in mind for the upcoming season.
Depending on the size of restaurant and patio, additional staff may need to be hired to handle the extra covers that are sitting outside. This is where planning ahead really comes into play. To be fair to yourself, your team, your new hires and your guests, you need to ensure you leave yourself enough time for interviewing, talent selection, on-boarding, and training before the peak of patio season truly hits.
Both front-of-house and back-of-house systems and teams need to be reviewed to ensure your operations are prepared. Customer service and speed in the kitchen should not be hindered by the fact additional seating is now offered. Plan ahead, create mock schedules, and see where there may be gaps to ensure the high standards of service inside is going to be matched with high standards of service outside.
Seating and Tables
Similar to that of seating strategies inside, ideally you want to have a strategic setup of tables and chairs outside. Consider a restaurant revenue management (RRM) approach, which can be defined simply as selling the right seat to the right customer at the right price and for the right duration of time. A strategic setup includes understanding your target market, their ideal length of stay, and average party size in addition to overall space for comfort and traffic flow for guests and staff.
Again, this additional seating must also align with production levels in the kitchen and bar. What would happen if you were at full capacity, both inside and outside? Have a plan in place and analyze your revenue per available seat-hour (RevPASH) to maximize each moment throughout the day.
Unfortunately, we can’t dictate the weather. Throughout the summer months you’re going to see rain, wind, storms and even days where it may feel too hot, or evenings where it may feel too cool to be on a patio. Restaurants and bars should consider these weather elements by offering more than just an umbrella. Look for other solutions to shade your patio, block wind and prevent heavy rain from ruining a potentially profitable day or night on the patio. These investments will pay off by continuing the positive cash flow even when mother nature tries to disappoint you.
Take the time to meet with your pest control vendor and discuss your plans for outside. They can suggest safe bug repellents and means of keeping away other animals and critters like mice, squirrels and even birds. Sanitation is a critical component in any restaurant and the patio cannot be overlooked. Put a preventative action plan in place to deter any bugs or animals from potentially ruining a guest’s experience.
With outdoor seating, you’ll likely encounter noise issues that start beyond the boundaries of your patio, including vehicle traffic, construction and other neighbourhood noises. To reduce it, consider noise reduction strategies such as walls, bushes or even your own sound strategy, like a catchy playlist.
Music can deliver the right, on-brand ambiance and attract your target demographic while increasing overall profits and drowning out other noise on the patio. No matter the concept, guests enjoy their food, drink, and company more when music is playing, which ultimately makes them stay longer and, of course, spend more of their hard earned dollars on your patio.
Patio Driven Menus
If you have the space, consider taking the grill outside (or any equipment you can) to launch an exciting new outdoor bar experience. This will push your restaurant to create unique outdoor menus, redefine your guest experience and stay a step ahead of your competition.
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have the space for a bar or kitchen equipment outside. Create a summer menu that’s inspired by an outdoor patio. Develop a menu plan with the entire kitchen and bar teams with the restaurant’s target market and concept kept close in mind. As always, keep this specialized menu small and inviting to reduce inventory, prep time, waste and any other staff requirements. Be creative and think outside the box.
A great patio season could be destroyed if it’s not coupled with a great marketing campaign. It is vital to inform your guests of your patio and the plans you have for it throughout the season. Warm weather attracts tourism and gets locals looking to re-explore their surroundings. The restaurants and bars that provide the right mix of planning and energy are the ones that will attract a consistent level of guests throughout the patio season. Look for ways to utilize live music, theme parties, unique menus and interactive games on a daily or weekly basis throughout the patio season to drive seasonal success.
Doug Radkey is the principal owner of Key Restaurant Group, a global restaurant and bar start-up development agency based in Ontario. Being in the food and beverage industry for over 17 years has allowed him to become a leading voice in the development of feasibility studies, unique concepts, business plans, marketing plans, memorable menus, guest experiences and financial management systems. Continue the conversation with Doug on Twitter @KeyRestaurants, on Facebook @DougRadkey, on LinkedIn, or by visiting keyrestaurantgroup.com.