Seven tips for a successful patio season

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By Diane Chiasson

Canadians never take warm weather for granted, which is good news for restaurant owners and operators.  Take advantage of this fact by setting up a patio dining area in your establishment.  Whether your property comes with a patio, courtyard or deck, or even if you are able to set up a few tables on the sidewalk outside your door, offering outdoor dining is a great way to boost traffic and sales.

With spring just around the corner, it’s time to start planning your patio strategy.  Here are a few tips to get you started for a successful season:

1.  Make it attractive

Don’t simply set up a few generic plastic tables and lawn chairs on your patio.  You can add flair and panache without breaking the bank.  String rope lights around your patio to make it look festive.  Put lamplights on tables.  Several small and inexpensive items like these can jazz up your patio.

Remember to stick to a theme that also reflects your restaurant’s menu.  For example, if you serve Spanish or Moroccan foods, consider choosing a red and orange colour theme.  For Mediterranean or French foods, sunny yellows and blues are more fitting.

2.  Buy some plants

You can easily enhance the ambience of outdoor dining by adding a few plants or trees.  If space is limited, consider setting up planters with fresh herbs or flowers along your patio’s perimeter.  Fresh plants and flowers give passersby and customers the impression your establishment serves fresh and healthful food and drinks.

3.  Make it comfortable

You want your customers to sit, relax and stay for drinks, appetizers, entrées and desserts. To do so, you must make your patio as comfortable as possible.  This might entail installing patio heaters to keep customers warm on chilly nights, or setting up umbrellas and awnings to create shade on sunny days.  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. Entice with the power of smell

If you have the space and means for it, consider setting up an outdoor barbecue grill or pit to make certain dishes, or create a special outdoor dining menu. No one can resist the smell of freshly grilled meats, fish and vegetables, as well as the visual entertainment of having your chef prepare food in front of everyone. Entice customers by stimulating all the senses!

5. Use a rolling menu board

Write your menu and advertise your daily food/drink specials and weekly promotions and events on a double-sided rolling menu board. Your menu and specials will be visible to all diners on the patio, as well as people walking by. This strategy also eliminates the problem of menus blowing away or getting dirty, or people walking away with them.

6. Make it easy on your servers

Patio season is hard on servers. They have to walk that extra distance in and out of the restaurant for each drink and food order. Simplify things for your service staff by setting up a bussing station right on the patio. This way, water refills, extra napkins, cutlery, condiments and other necessities are available immediately. Keep bins on hand for dirty dishes so servers are able to clear tables in a quick and efficient manner. Maintain your patio service to the same standards you offer inside your restaurant.

7. Market to larger crowds and parties

If you have the space, consider creating an area on your patio for private parties and gatherings. Couch-style seats and coffee tables are a great way to attract larger groups without the formality of a sit-down dinner. Create a special menu for this area comprising platters of food that guests can easily eat with one hand while standing up or sitting down.

About Diane Chiasson:

Diane Chiasson, FCSI, president of Chiasson Consultants Inc., has been helping foodservice, hospitality and retail operators increase sales for over 25 years. She provides innovative food and retail merchandising programs, interior design, marketing and promotional campaigns, and much more. Contact her at 416-926-1338, toll-free at 1-888-926-6655 or, or

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