In the spring and summer, sunny temperatures beckon people outside. And as customers are returning to on-site dining, sales are really climbing, to coincide with prime restaurant patio season.
During the pandemic, outdoor seating has been critical. Armed with heaters, open-walled shelters and extra hand sanitizer, restaurants offering al fresco dining had a clear advantage. Patio spaces were extended, and indoor dining spaces were recreated on the streets and sidewalks, in the name of survival. And as of 2021, many “unofficial” outdoor seating areas have been allowed to operate for the second summer in a row. Not only does it continue to be considered a safer alternative to indoor dining, gathering in the open air is a fun and celebratory way to reconnect, and eat out once again.
Is your restaurant’s patio ready for the summer rush? Now is the time to gear up and draw your sandal-clad customers back to your tables.
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What is a restaurant patio?
A restaurant patio is a place where guests can dine outside. Some restaurants have patios in either the front or back of their buildings, or even on their rooftops. What better way to enjoy fresh air and sunshine (or indulge in a bit of stargazing?). Patios can be a dog-friendly spaces, places for lawn games or live music, or simply areas to arrange extra seating.
How can a patio benefit my restaurant?
According to research by VSAG (Vucurevich Simons Advisory Group), a leader in international restaurant and hospitality consulting, adding an outdoor patio can increase gross profits by up to 65%. VSAG discovered that a restaurant’s investment of $200,000 in creating an outdoor dining space potentially yields a gross profit of over $500,000. They specifically saw growth during peak seasonal outdoor times, like summer.
What does this mean for you? There will be a lot of patios out there competing for business — especially as we all begin to emerge from our pandemic cocoons. Here are a few ways to help your patio stand out.
1. Create a New Seasonal Menu
Seasonal menus set the tone for your restaurant patio's personality.
On a hot sunny day, instead of your famous three-alarm chili, you’ll want to offer something lighter and cooler; perhaps highlighting local produce.
Serving food from local farms and suppliers is great for your regional economy as well as 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 dining area with tasty food and drink specials. What’s the best way to determine what to discount without affecting your bottom line? 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 cost the least to make.
2. Staff Up But Keep the Balance
When you open up your restaurant 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 to help in the summer.
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 amongst all of the servers.
Another idea is to schedule on-call positions. This allows staff to call in at certain times, to see if they need to come into work if the patio scene gets busy. Having backup during peak times helps relieve stress for your employees that are in the weeds, and ensures that on-call staff 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 pets vs. no pets areas, in order to keep everyone happy.
4. Dial Up Your Decor
If your patio contains little more than a picnic table or some folding chairs, you may 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 with 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 memorable (and Instagrammable) outdoor spaces.
5. Upgrade Your Server Uniforms
Depending on the style of your restaurant, your servers' indoor attire may not be appropriate for outdoors.
Consider a lightweight polo instead of an oxford shirt for fine dining restaurants during lunch, or on very hot evenings.
For a bar or eateries with a more casual atmosphere, you could design a T-shirt for the season. You may even elect to sell it or gift it to patrons as well! Modified outdoor uniforms will make your servers more comfortable in warm weather, and create a more seasonal atmosphere.
A recent study found that weather impacts restaurants substantially. Here are some tips on how to be ready to do business in all weather.
6. Consider the Weather
A recent study showed that weather not only affects the volume of customers, but their mood as well: they’re 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 into 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, rain or shine.
If you don't have any weather protection options, make sure your staff knows 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’re not always ideally located. Save 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 device 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 taking care of 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.
8. Let Guests Order and Pay on their Phones
Pandemic protocols have changed patrons' expectations. Now, many guests expect the full-on experience of dining out, coupled with the convenience of ordering and paying from their devices. Especially when it comes to eating outdoors, ordering and paying on their own — without having to go inside or flag down a server — can be a nice advantage for customers.
As such, many restaurants are restructuring their order and payment processes to maximize efficiency, without sacrificing hospitality. In fact, tech efficiencies and improved hospitality can go hand-in-hand. Guests feel empowered to place their orders and make secure payments whenever they choose, and servers enjoy a more rewarding role of welcoming guests, providing direction on menu items, and checking in — without the added stress of swiping credit cards.
One option is Toast Order & Pay™. This QR code ordering system lets guests scan a QR code, browse menu items, and order food and drinks right from their phones. Simultaneously, servers can roam the patio with handhelds in their pockets, ready to enter additional orders for guests at any time.