15 Outdoor Dining Promotion Ideas (2023)
Outdoor space is a luxury for residences, but it’s an absolute premium for restaurants. Not only does outdoor seating mean a greater customer capacity, but it gives your restaurant a host of promotional opportunities. In patio season, restaurant owners who successfully leverage their outdoor space can help drum up business, and contribute to higher profits.
As spring approaches, now is the time to start planning your outdoor dining experiences.
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Patio Promotion Preparation
Keep your audience in mind
You know your customers, and you understand what keeps them coming back to your restaurant. Sure, the food is great, but for many customers, the overall dining experience and ambiance play an important role in choosing a place to eat.
When you’re gearing up for patio season, ask yourself what your customers love about your restaurant and what they might be looking for – those answers will inform your patio season preparation.
Decide your budget
Record inflation has been tough on operating costs as well as consumers’ wallets. Beefing up your outdoor space is a great way to create an outdoor dining experience that customers will want to patronize, but don’t overextend yourself financially. Create a budget for patio season and stick to it.
Know your margins
The best way to increase a budget? Earn more profit! (Crazy, right?)
Profit isn’t just a matter of getting more customers, it’s also about increasing your margins. That means designing menu items that have higher profit margins and promoting those items via specials, menu imagery, and other methods – this is called menu engineering. Make sure your staff knows which dishes have the best bang for their buck, too, so they can recommend those items to patrons.
Look at the competition
It’s okay to admit that your competition has some good ideas. Don’t be afraid to analyze what others are doing and take notes. It might be corny to rip off another restaurant’s outdoor karaoke night, but maybe you host an outdoor trivia night to make your outdoor dining experience stand out in the market.
15 Patio Promotion Ideas
You’re laying the groundwork for a great patio season, but to really get the most out of it, you’ll have to actively promote your al fresco dining experience.
We touched on it a moment ago, but nice weather and patio ambiance makes any event better. If you already host events like karaoke or trivia night, consider holding them in your outdoor space. Otherwise, get creative with events to host on the patio.
Create a pop-up
It’s human nature to jump on a limited-time experience — just ask professional marketers. Pop-ups are a great way for restaurants to test new items, expand their menus, or build great local partnerships. An Italian restaurant could bring in a portable pizza oven for classic, wood-fired pizza. A bar could partner with a local restaurant to sell food without having to set up an entire kitchen or overhaul operations.
Make an outdoor-only menu
Drum up the exclusivity of your outdoor seating with a special menu that patrons can only enjoy outdoors. Of course, creating and servicing this menu shouldn’t diminish your indoor menu — it should be an additive, complementary component of your restaurant experience.
Partner with other local businesses
We touched on it in the pop-up section, but partnering with other local businesses is a great way for each organization to tap into one another’s client base. From a pop-up to a special menu item to a one-night-only event, partnerships show you have a finger on the pulse of the community and can attract new customers.
Start a loyalty program
Loyalty programs don’t necessarily work for all types of restaurants, but restaurant owners who know they have a slew of regulars should incentivize those people to keep coming back. Loyalty programs that offer exclusive deals and discounts to frequent customers can increase the value of your best customers.
Offer rotating specials
An outdoor-only menu for your restaurant patio is great, but if you don’t want to go that far, offering rotating specials is a great way to increase interest in your restaurant (and potentially help your margins.) Friday Fish Fry? Why not?
Allow furry friends
Not all states or municipalities allow businesses to welcome dogs, but by allowing pets on your restaurant patio, you could attract on-foot customers who have limited dining options when out on a walk. Just check the local law before welcoming pets.
Redesign your space
People remember a great dining experience for more than just the food — especially when dining outdoors. Greenery, fire pits, and comfortable seating all contribute to great ambiance that will encourage customers to return in the future.
Bring in live music
Who doesn’t like an outdoor dinner and a show on a summer evening? Well, as long as it’s a good show. It’s important to find the right musician(s) for your particular outdoor space, but good entertainment amplifies an outdoor dining experience.
Upgrade your furniture
Nobody wants to go to a restaurant just to sit at a table that looks like their home patio set that’s been begging for a power wash for years. Invest in high-quality, comfortable outdoor furniture that enhances the overall ambiance and clean it regularly.
Support a good cause
People like to patronize businesses with similar values to them. Donating proceeds from an outdoor event to charity or dedicating a portion of sales on a particular item to support a cause will leave a good taste in patrons’ mouths. Pun completely intended.
Use social media
How do you communicate the investment you’ve made in your outdoor space? Social media is a great place to start. Use Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok to promote events, menu items, and more. Remember to post frequently to keep engagement high and encourage in-person visitors to follow your social channels.
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Upgrade your email campaigns
Email promotion doesn’t have to be time-consuming or expensive. Collect email addresses through surveys, giveaways, and other promotional means, and use your email list to get the word out about your outdoor space. Writing and sending emails en masse is easy and cost-effective with products like Toast’s Email Marketing.
Update your steps of service
Michelin-star restaurants reach that status because they’ve mastered their steps of service. When you start leaning into patio season, your steps of service might change slightly. Indoor and outdoor service isn’t necessarily the same in every restaurant, and updating your service model can help your patio run more efficiently.
For example, with Toast Mobile Order & Pay guests can easily scan a QR code to browse the menu, order, and pay, all from their mobile device. Plus with Apple Pay, guests can pay in less than 10 seconds. With modern technology like this, the service industry is constantly changing.
Work with influencers
Not every restaurant has the resources to actively manage social media accounts. But any restaurant owner can invite a local food influencer to check out the new outdoor space and pay for a post promoting the space.
How to Measure the Effectiveness of Your Patio Promotions
Any marketing campaign is only as good as the insights you derive from it. That means gathering data. You don’t need to be a data scientist to keep track of metrics like sales, social media impressions, and how popular individual menu items are.
Point-of-sale services like Toast actually track most of these metrics for you automatically, so all you have to do is look at the numbers before and after you started your patio season promotion.
Outdoor seating is a luxury for any restaurant. Creating an excellent outdoor dining experience during patio season is a great way to attract new customers and turn them into frequent visitors. Most people won’t find out about your awesome al fresco dining experience on their own, however. Active promotion and management before and during patio season will help you maximize your outdoor seating’s potential.
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DISCLAIMER: This information is provided for general informational purposes only, and publication does not constitute an endorsement. Toast does not warrant the accuracy or completeness of any information, text, graphics, links, or other items contained within this content. Toast does not guarantee you will achieve any specific results if you follow any advice herein. It may be advisable for you to consult with a professional such as a lawyer, accountant, or business advisor for advice specific to your situation.