Every spring, the sun starts peeking through the clouds and restaurant customers come out of their winter caves in droves. It’s an exciting time for restaurant owners – sales will likely skyrocket as compared to drearier months – but is your restaurant’s patio ready to go for the summer rush? If not, it’s time to gear up before your sandal-clad customers choose to dine elsewhere.
According to research by VSAG (Vucurevich Simons Advisory Group), a leader in international restaurant and hospitality consulting, by simply adding an outdoor patio to your restaurant, you could increase gross profits by up to 65%. In their research, they discovered that a restaurant’s investment of $200,000 in creating an outdoor dining space would yield a gross profit of over $500,000. They especially saw growth during peak seasonal outdoor times like summer.
What does that mean for you? There will be a lot of patios out there competing for business. Here are a couple of ways to make your patio to stand out from the crowd.
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1. Create a New Seasonal Menu
A seasonal menu sets the tone for your patio's personality.
On a hot sunny day, you might not want to serve customers your famous three-alarm chili but rather something lighter to cool them off. It’s also a great time to highlight local produce.
Serving food from local farms and suppliers is great for your regional economy and it will also attract patrons to the menu items that feature produce they’ve been seeing at farm stands or markets. Buying from local purveyors is also more sustainable, and recent studies have shown that consumers are willing to pay more for eco-friendly experiences.
You can also attract traffic to your outdoor space with tasty food and drink specials. What’s the best way to determine what to discount without affecting your bottom line and still creating an appealing offer? Just look back at POS reporting and view your sales from last season. You can see what appetizers or beverages were most popular and, if you have an integrated inventory system, you can see what items were the least expensive to make. The combination of this info should make it simple to decide what’s best to discount this season.
2. Staff Up But Keep the Balance
When you open up your patio, you also open up several more seats for guests — which means your restaurant needs to staff up.
There may be a big event like the Fourth of July coming up, and your restaurant schedule should reflect the influx of customers you’ll likely get. Often, seasonal restaurants hire college staff in the summer to help.
During the shift, it might seem easier to assign one server to the patio all night, but if everyone wants to sit outside, that puts that server at a disadvantage. By giving every server a table outside, it keeps the number of tables even among all of the servers.
Another idea is to schedule on-call positions, allowing people to call in at certain times to see if they need to come into work if the patio scene gets too busy. Having a person as a backup option for busy peaks helps relieve stress for your employees that are in the weeds and keeps the on-call person happy since they only need to come in when needed.
3. Establish a Pet Policy
The moment you open up your patio, you’re bound to hear this question: “Can I bring my dog?”
There are, of course, pros and cons to having a pet-friendly patio. Some guests may be allergic, and some dogs may be distracting or disruptive to the guest experience.
If you want to allow pets, you could highlight featured pet days/hours, or designate a pets vs. no pets area for customers who might be allergic or might not want to share their meals alongside a four-legged friend.
Of course, you could also ban pets altogether. What’s your restaurant’s pet policy?
4. Dial Up Your Decor
If your version of a patio is a picnic table or some folding chairs, you might need to revamp your outdoor dining strategy.
According to Restaurant Development + Design, the outdoor space should be a continuation of the indoor space, but perhaps slightly more casual.
If you can’t afford to hire an interior designer to create a complementary space, just stick within the same color scheme and concept from your interior. Curated gardens, string lights, and heaters for when it gets a bit chilly are also great ways to create a memorable (and Instagrammable) outdoor spaces.
5. Upgrade Your Server Uniforms
Depending on the style of your restaurant, your servers' indoor attire might not be appropriate for outdoors.
You might consider a lightweight polo instead of an oxford shirt for fine dining restaurants during lunch or on very hot evenings.
For a bar or more casual atmosphere, you could design a T-shirt for the season and give it away or sell to patrons as well. Modified outdoor uniforms will make your servers more comfortable in warm weather and will create a more seasonal atmosphere.
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6. Consider the Weather
A recent study showed that weather not only affects the volume of customers, but also their mood, which means they are more likely to be critical of your restaurant in unpleasant weather.
Your patio, of course, will be the most affected by bad weather.
Make sure you have a plan for last-minute weather changes. Do you have an awning built in to your patio? Perhaps one that will appear at the touch of a button? Or will you have to herd guests back inside? The best patios are versatile enough for guests to eat in come rain or shine.
If you don't have any weather protection options, make sure your staff know the protocol for quickly bringing guests inside – will you replace dishes that get rained on? Who will be in charge of reseating everyone inside? Develop a patio storm plan.
7. Empower Your Servers to Be Strategic with Toast Go™
As patios are only seasonal spaces, they are not always ideally located. Stop servers from having to run back and forth to the bar, kitchen, and terminal by investing in a handheld POS system like Toast Go™.
Toast Go is a fully integrated handheld that fires orders directly to the kitchen, includes inventory information about what’s on hand and what’s 86’ed in real time, and even contains allergen information for specific menu items right on the screen. Guests can pay, sign, and tip right at the table — even if they want to split the check 10 ways.
Purchasing dedicated handhelds for your outdoor space will allow servers to focus on delighting guests instead of working up a sweat. With more time to upsell and cater to the guest experience, your servers will turn tables faster and garner better tips.
Plus, customers will want to come back on the next sunny day.