Your Guide to Patio Season: How to Make the Most of Outdoor Dining
In the spring and summer, sunny weather brings everyone outside. As customers start planning vacations and outings, restaurant sales are exploding, especially with prime restaurant patio season right around the corner.
The pandemic made outdoor restaurant seating critical. Armed with heaters, open-walled shelters and calming ambiances, 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 now in 2023, many “unofficial” outdoor seating areas have been extended to operate for the summer months. What started as a safer alternative to indoor dining has turned into a fun, common way to gather. Outdoor dining space is a celebratory way to reconnect and eat out with friends, families, and significant others.
So, is your restaurant’s patio ready for the spring and summer rush? Now is the time to gear up so that you bring all the sandal-clad customers to your tables.
Restaurant Marketing Plan
What is a restaurant patio?
A restaurant patio is a place where guests can dine outside. Restaurants can have outdoor dining spaces in the front or back of their buildings. Some even have rooftops. Either way, there’s no better way to enjoy fresh air and sunshine (or indulge in a bit of stargazing) than with the perfect patio. It can be a dog-friendly space, a place for lawn games and live music, or simply an area for additional seating.
How can a patio benefit my restaurant?
According to research by VSAG (Vucurevich Simons Advisory Group), a leader in the international restaurant and hospitality consulting, adding an outdoor patio can increase restaurant gross profits by up to 65%. VSAG discovered that an investment of $200,000 in creating an outdoor dining space potentially yields a gross profit of over $500,000. They specifically saw growth during the peak seasons for dining outdoors, like summer.
Now, 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 is how to get started with an outdoor space, grow your patio (while keeping costs reasonable), and help your restaurant stand out from the crowd.
How to get your restaurant patio started
Dial-Up Your Decor
If your patio dining area is no more than a picnic table or some folding chairs, you may need to revamp your outdoor dining decor strategy. The appearance of your patio affects your ambiance and overall customer dining experience.
According to Restaurant Development + Design, a restaurant’s outdoor space should be a continuation of the indoor space and often be slightly more casual.
If you can’t afford to hire an interior designer to create a complementary patio, just stick with the same color scheme and concept from your interior. You can incorporate your brand logo onto custom-made umbrellas, takeout boxes, and even on your outdoor furniture. And, don’t forget to add “Instagrammable” touches, like curated gardens and string lights, along with heaters and fire pits for when it gets a bit chilly.
Upgrade Your Server Uniforms
Depending on the style of your restaurant, your servers' indoor attire may not be appropriate for the outdoors. Modified outdoor uniforms will make your servers more comfortable in warm weather, and create a more seasonal atmosphere.
For bars or eateries with more casual atmospheres, you could design a T-shirt for the season. You may even choose to sell it or gift it to patrons as well. On the other hand, if your restaurant is more upscale, consider swapping your servers’ oxford shirts for lightweight polos during lunch or on very hot evenings.
Consider the Weather
A recent study showed that weather not only affects the volume of customers but their moods as well. Customers are more likely to be critical of your restaurant in unpleasant weather. It comes as no surprise that your patio, of course, will be the most affected by bad weather.
Building a patio that functions rain or shine is the best way to combat the weather. Some patios are covered from the start, while others are open-air. If you're the latter, you can install a motorized awning, making your patio an oasis even on the rainiest days.
Don't worry if you can’t weatherproof your patio. You can still please customers with an organized patio weather plan. Make sure your staff knows the protocol for quickly bringing guests inside if the weather turns sour. Will you replace dishes that get rained on? Who will be in charge of reseating everyone inside? Questions like these should all have an answer in your weather plan.
Establish a Pet Policy
The moment you open up your patio, you’re bound to hear the 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. In addition, some cities prohibit non-service animals in restaurants- make sure to do your research before opening up your space to your furry friends.
If you want to allow pets, you could highlight featured pet days/hours, or designate pets vs. no pets areas, to keep everyone happy. No matter your policy, pet-friendly patios do make an excellent marketing tool.
How to grow your patio while keeping costs down
Cover more tables with fewer servers
When you open up your restaurant patio seating, you also open up several more seats for guests — which means your restaurant needs to be well-staffed.
We know staffing your restaurant can be especially difficult right now. The restaurant industry talent pool is smaller and more competitive than ever before – with restaurant owners looking to hire and get through the spring and summer with a full staff roster.
Fortunately, there are ways to make your restaurant a more attractive place to work. Even better, there are efficiency-driven technologies that make it much easier to cover more tables with fewer people.
Toast Order & Pay empowers guests to add food and drinks to their tab by scanning a QR code and paying their bills from their phones. No more hunting a server down for that next round of drinks – with this technology, your servers can cover larger sections while still delivering the same great hospitality you expect.
Toast Go® 2 puts a point-of-sale system in your server’s back pocket, saving your staff trips to the terminal with a handheld POS. This allows your staff to fire off orders to the kitchen, delivering service that's fast, efficient, and ready to pivot on the fly.
Improve patio menu profitability
As you upgrade your patio specials or refresh your summer menu, make sure to keep costs in check. Ongoing food inflation and higher ingredient costs may be impacting your menu profitability. It’s important to conduct plate costing exercises so you can be aware of what dishes are your most successful (and which might be dragging down your profitability).
Ideally, you should prioritize popular, cost-effective menu items. In menu engineering terms, this means keeping your stars and your puzzles. With a detailed view of your patio menu items’ profitability and popularity, you can easily identify the dishes that are making you money, and which you might want to leave in the past. This Menu Engineering Course can help you do just that.
Here’s a quick breakdown of things to look out for when updating your menu.
Measuring menu item profitability involves calculating menu item food cost percentage. Profitability can also be achieved by creating new dishes that stretch the ingredients you already have or what you can purchase in bulk. This will help keep your inventory costs low, eliminating the need to buy new supplies for your off-premise menu.
Take historic sales data into account and feedback from customers about their favorite things to order. Keep track of menu items guests order over and over again, noting their popularity by the time of day and even time of year. Regardless of how popular dishes are, remember that customer preferences are bound to shift. Speaking directly to your customers about their favorite items and what they might be looking for in a summer menu can give you key insight into how to plan your menu successfully.
Besides understanding what your guests order the most frequently at your restaurant, you should also explore what guests are ordering from other restaurants, and how much they’re charging for dishes. Don’t be afraid to lean on technology for this. xtraCHEF by Toast can help simplify recipe costing by automatically digitizing the critical details from every vendor invoice you receive — enabling you to spot ingredient price changes and see how they impact profitability across your menu.
Making the most of patio season
Below are 4 strategic ways to keep the crowds coming in for the entire spring and summer seasons.
Create a New Seasonal Menu
Seasonal menus set the tone for your restaurant patio's personality. Now that you know how to keep menu costs down, you’re ready to create a unique menu to attract your summer crowd.
On a hot sunny day, instead of your famous three-alarm chili, you’ll want to offer something lighter and cooler. Perhaps the dish can highlight local produce, fostering a sense of community in your menu that many patrons love.
Serving food from local farms and suppliers isn’t just solid marketing - it's also great for your regional economy. It is a sustainable restaurant practice that minimizes your carbon footprint and supports local farmers. Plus, 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 your 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.
Take advantage of social media
Your restaurant’s social media strategy is a crucial part of your overall restaurant marketing strategy. And, what better marketing tool than a gorgeous patio to show off why you’re the best place for outdoor dining in the city!
There are plenty of ways to leverage your patio in your social media marketing. Take lots of pictures for your Instagram feed, post your menu and specials on your story, and create TikToks using trending summer sounds – the opportunities to showcase your restaurant's outdoor dining scene are endless. If you need a little social media run-down, Toast’s Restaurant Social Media Guide has the tools you need to market your patio this season.
Empower Your Servers to Be Strategic with Toast Go™
Since patios are only seasonal spaces, they’re not always ideally located. Toast Go® 2 makes servers’ lives easier by saving them time running back and forth to the bar, kitchen, and terminal.
Toast Go™ 2 is a fully integrated handheld device that fires orders directly to the kitchen. It includes inventory information about what’s on hand and what’s 86’ed in real-time. It also promotes guests’ safety by showcasing allergen information for specific menu items right on the screen. The best part is that guests can pay, sign, and tip right at the table Toast Go™ 2, even if they want to split the check 10 ways.
Investing in 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.
Think about your steps of service
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.
Enter: the new steps of service. Many restaurants are restructuring their order and payment processes to maximize efficiency, without sacrificing hospitality. Thankfully, tech efficiencies and improved hospitality can go hand-in-hand. Guests feel empowered to place their orders and make secure payments whenever they choose. In addition, 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 orders for guests at any time.
Learn more about Toast Order & Pay™ here.
Ready to be the best outdoor dining spot in town?
Patios aren’t going anywhere. An outdoor dining space is a guaranteed way to maximize the popularity and profitability of your restaurant space, especially on those gorgeous spring and summer days.
Summer is just around the corner. Let’s avoid the FOMO and set your restaurant up for success with a patio. With this guide, we know you can do it.
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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.