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Restaurant Outdoor Seating: 70% Of Diners Are Willing To Wait Longer For Outdoor Seating

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Tessa ZuluagaAuthor

When the weather app finally starts showing sunshine and 70 degrees, patio season begins. For guests, this might mean an Aperol Spritz and oysters. But for restaurant operators, this means patio setup and cleanup, scheduling more staff, and lots of planning. This added effort begs the question: Is managing and promoting an outdoor seating area truly worth the investment?

To help answer this, Toast conducted a blind survey of 850 respondents on how restaurant-goers are feeling about the outdoor dining season. This article delves into the data points behind what diners are thinking. We'll explore how your restaurant can capitalize on these insights and implement patio season best practices.

Join us as we explore how these insights impact restaurants in 2024.

Quick insights:

  • 54% of respondents are more likely to choose a restaurant with outdoor seating.

  • 48% of respondents said that umbrellas or a covered area for shade was the most important factor when choosing an outdoor restaurant.

  • 62% of respondents prefer a covered screened-in patio when dining outside.

  • 70% of respondents are willing to wait longer for outdoor seating.

  • 35% of respondents are more likely to book a reservation in the summer when the weather is supposed to be nice.

  • 40% of respondents prefer to dine outside in the late afternoon (happy hour) the most. 

  • 41% of respondents choose to dine specifically at restaurants with outdoor seating. 

Restaurant outdoor seating and patio season insights

Let’s dive into these insights a little deeper and provide some context. 

54% of respondents are more likely to choose a restaurant with outdoor seating.

When the weather is nice, guests want to dine outside. Approximately 54% of respondents are more likely to choose a restaurant with outdoor seating when the weather permits. This statistic specifically applies to men, as 62% of these outdoor dining voters were male. We also found that younger guests are more likely to prefer outdoor seating consistently. Of those who said they’d still prefer to sit indoors, even when the weather is nice, 17% were aged 18-24 and only 8% were aged 25-34. Younger men are looking to dine outside — focus your marketing efforts here.

Since younger diners are more consistently drawn to al fresco dining, promoting outdoor areas on platforms and social media channels favored by millennials and Gen Z could pay off. Restaurateurs may also want to deck out their outdoor spaces with live music, TVs for sports viewing, and phone charging stations to cater to this youthful crowd. Lastly, depending on the laws in your city, offering a dog-friendly patio can attract a young crowd. Millennials currently make up the largest group of pet owners. Allowing these young guests to bring their furry friends out could mean more money to your restaurant business. Dogs are interested in patio dining, too!

Another way to get guests into your patio seating is through Toast’s Marketing Suite. Toast’s Marketing Suite marries marketing tools with automation technology. Together, the suites create a seamless digital hospitality experience for restaurants, integrate across the Toast platform, and allow restaurants to gather guest data from online and point-of-sale (POS) transactions. This data powers automated, targeted campaigns and custom-tailored guest experiences, fostering an engaging online environment that attracts guests and encourages return restaurant visits and repeat orders. 

62% of respondents prefer a covered screened-in patio when dining outside.

It’s important to consider diners’ preferences when constructing your outdoor seating area. Roughly 62% of respondents prefer a covered screened-in patio when dining outside, and   48% of respondents said umbrellas or a covered area for shade was the most important factor when choosing an outdoor restaurant. This was especially true for women, as 51% of women surveyed said shade was the most important factor to them. Although men also chose shade (44%) as their number 1, 31% of them said that scenic views were most important. The guys just want a pretty view on a nice patio — noted!

When asked which factor most commonly deters guests from choosing to dine outside, 52% said the weather. However, 20% answered that bugs, birds, and other animals deter them the most, all the more reason to invest in a screened-in patio. This way, if it starts raining or those fruit flies start approaching, your guests can still enjoy their dining experience. There are many different companies that specialize in screening in restaurant porches including PYC Awnings  who specialize in patio enclosures that protect the restaurant’s outdoor areas from rain and wind, while keeping the airy atmosphere. 

Consider dining on the patio at restaurants in your area to see what other restaurants are offering. And  don’t be afraid to ask your customers what they prefer! Check out our Free Restaurant Survey Template to find out what patio layout and/or specifc menu items your customers  want to see from you this summer.

70% of respondents are willing to wait longer for outdoor seating.

Is your reservation and waitlist system ready for summer? If not, get it ready, because 35% of respondents are more likely to book a reservation in the summer when the weather is supposed to be nice. Similarly, 41% of respondents choose to dine specifically at restaurants with outdoor seating. Men in particular are seeking out restaurants with outdoor seating; 48% of them answered that they would avoid restaurants if they had to sit inside. Restaurants can promote their outdoor areas heavily on their website and social media leading up to the busy season. Featuring beautiful photos of the patio, highlighting new summer menu offerings, and making it easy for guests to request outdoor tables during the booking process can help drive more reservations.

Your hosts are about to be extra busy, as 70% of respondents are also willing to wait longer for outdoor seating. Restaurant operators should prepare for this demand by staffing up during peak outdoor dining hours and using a reservation system that allows guests to reserve outdoor tables specifically. You can easily integrate your outdoor seating floor plan into Toast Tables, the reservation platform that works with your POS. Toast Tables is your one-stop, integrated waitlist & reservation solution - built to enhance hospitality, simplify table management, and keep guests coming back.

Although guests have strong preferences for outdoor dining, they’re not as particular about the food that’s being served.. Around 60% of respondents said they don’t prefer a specific type of entree when dining outdoors, while 24% prefer hot entrees and only 16% said they prefer cold entrees when eating outside. This is positive news for restaurants of all cuisine types, as guests aren’t actually seeking out cooler-temperature items. As long as guests can enjoy the open air on a nice patio space, they’ll stop in for a visit..

40% of respondents prefer to dine outside in the late afternoon (happy hour) the most. 

The most popular time to dine outside is when the sun is still up, as 34% of respondents prefer to dine on an outdoor patio in the early afternoon,  40% in the later afternoon,21% at nighttime (dinner), and only 6% prefer morning (breakfast). We also found that middle-aged respondents (ages 35-44) were more likely (47%) to choose to dine outside in the late afternoon compared to other generations. This presents an opportunity for restaurant operators to get some more business before the sun goes down by offering both brunch and happy hour specials.

Brunch is great. Brunch outside on a patio when it’s 72 degrees out is even better. Consider offering a weekend brunch menu to bring those 34% of early afternoon patio diners into your restaurant. You can capitalize on your brunch service by offering tasty brunch beverages likes mimosas, bellinis, and espresso martinis. For example, Ferns, a restaurant located in the East Village of New York, features a lovely patio with plenty of greenery where guests can enjoy their brunch. Locals frequent this spot to indulge in their rotating housemade donuts and sip on their refreshing Cucumber Mint Collins.

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To cater to that 40% of guests who prefer outdoor dining in the later afternoon, check out these happy hour specials for some inspiration.

  • Crispiano (NYC) - This Italian restaurant offers happy hour every day from 5pm - 7pm. This includes $6 beer, $9 spritz, $8 wine, and $15 pizzas. This place is absolutely packed by 5:30pm, and the best part is that it stays busy. Once guests are inside, they’re lingering past that 7pm cut off.

  • Jackdaw (NYC) - This bar offers a slightly different happy hour to get guests in during slower hours. Happy hour here lasts from 12 -7pm Monday -Friday and 4pm - Close Sunday. The drinks during this time range from $6-$10 and it gets quite busy. This is a great option if you need to fill seats during slower hours.

  • Motel No Tell (NYC) - This spot offers a traditional happy hour deal that’s simple yet effective. Happy Hour is 4-7pm on Monday-Friday. They offer discounted beverages and $10 pizzas. Once again, the crowd stays well past happy hour!

Toast can help you build your happy hour menu with bar-specific pricing. In the point of sale,  restaurants t can create a new happy hour menu that duplicates the appropriate items but prices them differently according to the menu they reside in. This way, when happy hour ends there’s no confusion about a discounted drink going through. For more information check out this article.

Capitalize on outdoor dining this summer

As the weather warms up, restaurants have a prime opportunity to capitalize on diners' enthusiasm for outdoor dining options. Our survey shows that a significant portion of guests prefer outdoor spaces like rooftop bars and patio seating with umbrellas. Having an inviting outdoor dining experience can attract guests and boost sales. Need some help getting your patio started? Toast Capital offers eligible Toast customers access to loans from $5,000 to $300,000, so you can take what you need to accomplish your patio construction goals.

To maximize profits on patio dining demand, restaurateurs can promote their offerings through websites, social media, e-newsletters, and the reservation process. Enticing specials like weekend brunch, happy hour deals with craft beer and wine bar selections, and themed nights with live music can draw crowds. With an engaging atmosphere and seamless technological solutions, restaurants can elevate the outdoor dining experience, attract new guests, and thrive during the summer months.

Want to learn more? Check out these related resources:

Methodology

Toast conducted a blind survey on this topic of 850 U.S. adults ages 18 and older on May 30, 2024. Respondents were not made aware that Toast was fielding the study. Using a standard margin of error calculation, at a confidence interval of 95%, the margin of error on average is +/- 3 - 5%.

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