One major takeaway from living through a seemingly never-ending pandemic is that outdoor dining space is here to stay. Many restaurants scrambled to open up outdoor dining areas in 2020, and with the summer 2021 spikes of the COVID-19 Delta variant, consumers are continuing to choose restaurants that offer safe and welcoming spaces to enjoy meals alfresco. According to OpenTable’s recent diner survey, 82 percent of guests want restaurants to continue to increase outdoor seating in 2021. Even quick service joints like franchise sub shops are pushing their corporate team for permission to create their own outdoor spaces. Local governments are cooperating with small business owners to relax permitting to allow new usage of outdoor areas.
So how do you create an al fresco dining experience that attracts customers? You don’t have to break the bank to do it, and the returns are sure to keep coming.
Create Space Efficiency
Although there is an expense at the onset, investing in a porch, deck, or rooftop terrace can boost your profits significantly over the long term. Even before the pandemic, restaurants with outdoor seating historically brought in more revenue than those without it.
To maximize profitability, your outdoor dining area should seat the maximum number of people while also creating a desirable and functional space. It takes more than just cramming in as many tables as possible. After all, a crowded area is hardly the experience customers are looking for during uncertain COVID times.
To have a permanent patio, you may need special permits. Get in touch with your local regulating office to determine what licenses you need for a temporary or permanent outdoor dining space. Determine whether you will need additional permits for electrical and plumbing work outdoors, and ensure you understand noise ordinances.
By using movable furniture, you can reconfigure your dining area for large groups, private events, game nights and live music. Choose outdoor furniture with a small footprint to ensure you can adequately space your patrons. Think hightops and barstools. Square over round works better in most cases.
Ensure you have weather-proofed your space with flexible items like umbrellas, sunshades, fans and outdoor heaters. By doing this, you’ll lessen the chance of lost revenue due to inclement weather. Those creature comforts will also ensure your guests are as comfortable as possible during heat waves or cold snaps.
Bring in plants and water features to create relaxing areas with ambiance. These items can also serve as functional separators, masking unattractive views like parking lots and providing a sound barrier.
Add string lights, fire pits, torches or candles to invoke warmth and ambiance in your space. These touches can make a bustling area feel more secluded.
Private pods or domes are a trendy new way to accommodate guests outdoors while keeping the feel private. A flower wall or garden trellis creates a lovely background for Instagram photos, which is sure to create buzz around your beautiful new outdoor space.
Make it Comfy
Do you like to sit on metal seats that leave waffle tracks on your legs? Neither do your guests. Comfortable chairs with back support, either through design or cushions are critical to keeping your guests loving dining outdoors. If cushions seem too high maintenance, choose a woven plastic or fiber material that is easy to clean but more comfortable than wood or metal.
Make your outdoor space an extension of your brand and of your indoor space. Create a place people want to come and stay, not a place they eat only because they feel it’s safer than inside.
Pump Up the Volume
Music plays a vital role in creating a restaurant’s atmosphere. It can also distract from intrusive noises like traffic. Set up a speaker system and generate some lively music to accompany the style of food you serve. But seek to create balance, rather than drowning out the conversation with overbearing rock music.
Consider offering live music or a DJ to attract street traffic. Adding a late-night menu and drink specials are excellent additions that appeal to late-night diners and pair well with live music while creating a revenue boost. Of course, you will need to make sure to acquire the necessary licensing to play music at your restaurant.
These strategies have worked for many restaurants over the past year. Now you can use them to create an al fresco dining experience that enables your business to capitalize on the dining trend that’s here to stay.