How to Enhance Your Patio Dining Space

Patio Dining Space

For restaurants with patios, spring and summer are great times to add extra diners by making it enticing to eat outdoors. With sunny skies and pleasant breezes, you can pack them in outdoors. 

It can be an exciting and profitable time for restaurant owners, but only if your patio is prepared for the spring/summer rush. 

According to research by VSAG (Vucurevich Simons Advisory Group), a leader in international restaurant & hospitality consulting, adding an outdoor patio 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.

What does that mean for you? There will be a lot of patios out there competing for business. Here are some ways to make your patio to stand out from the crowd:

1. Create a New Seasonal Menu

A seasonal menu sets the tone for your patio's personality. A hot sunny day is a great time to offer lighter fare, like healthy salads, to cool off your diners. It’s also a great time to highlight local produce.

Serving food from local farms and suppliers is great for your regional economy and will also attract patrons to the menu items that feature local produce. 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 boost traffic with tasty food and drink specials. The best way to determine what to discount without affecting your bottom line is to look back at POS reporting and view your sales from the same time 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. 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 your patio, you also open up several more seats for guests. That means you need to add more staff. 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.

3. Establish a Pet Policy

Opening your patio begs the question: “Can I bring my dog?”

There are pros and cons to having a pet-friendly patio. Some dogs may be distracting or disruptive to the guest experience. On the other hand, some diners will choose your patio simple because you allow pets to dine with them.

If you want to allow pets, you could highlight featured pet days/hours, or designate pets and no-pets areas for customers outdoors.

4. Upgrade Your Decor

A patio area does not involve picnic tables and folding chairs. If you want that area to prosper, you need to provide more creature comforts for diners.

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. Curated gardens, string lights, and heaters for when it gets a bit chilly are also great ways to create a memorable (and Instagrammable) outdoor space.

5. Tweak Your Server Uniforms

Depending on the style of your restaurant, your servers' indoor attire might not be appropriate for outdoors. To make the outdoor area thrive, a lightweight polo instead of an oxford shirt might be the ticket during lunch or on warm evenings.

For a bar or more casual atmosphere, you could design a T-shirt for the season and give it away or sell it to patrons as well. Modified outdoor uniforms will make your servers more comfortable in warm weather and will create a more seasonal atmosphere for diners.

6. Consider the Weather

A recent study showed that weather not only affects the volume of customers but also their mood. That 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 can 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 enjoy, come rain or shine. If you don't have any weather protection options, make sure your staffers know the protocol for quickly bringing guests inside. Develop a patio storm plan.

7. Empower Your Servers to a Hand-Held POS

Because 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 that can be used outdoors.

Among the options, Toast Go is a fully integrated handheld that routes orders directly to the kitchen and includes real-time inventory information about what’s on hand and what is not. 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 when they work the patio. Even better, customers will want to come back on the next sunny day.