As the weather continues to warm up, more and more diners will prefer to eat outside where they can enjoy fresh air, chirping birds, and beautiful sunshine. But setting up an inviting outdoor eating area isn’t as simple as throwing a few tables and chairs in front of or behind your restaurant. Be sure to take the following info into consideration when designing an outdoor dining area:
Comfort is King
Nothing repels a customer quite like an uncomfortable chair, table, or booth. After all—nobody wants to constantly squirm and adjust his posture during what should be a relaxing meal. That’s why it’s essential to outfit your patio or eating area with comfy outdoor table and chairs that will encourage patrons to return in the future. If your chairs are made of a hard material, their comfort level may significantly increase by the addition of cushions. Adding a cushion to each chair can be the difference between a customer becoming a regular or never returning.
Preparing for the Elements
Even though comfort is a top priority, it’s alsoimportant for your patio furniture to be durable enough to withstand the outdoor elements. This means investing in furniture made with quality materials like wood, cast aluminum, wrought iron, or steel. Doing so ensures your furniture will not only last the season—but also for the years still to come. Some restaurants utilize patio canopies that completely cover their outdoor seating areas, protecting furniture from damage caused by the rain and sun. These enclosures are particularly ideal for providing shade at restaurants where the heat and sun can be oppressive.
Restaurants in ultra-hot regions can also utilize umbrellas and outdoor misting fans to help ensure their customers remain comfortable. While umbrellas keep patrons shaded from the sun, outdoor misting systems provide a cool, refreshing breeze that’s saturated with moisture. Standard fans are also great options for outdoor seating areas. Restaurants in hot climates should ensure they have plenty of ice available, as some customers might request ice to chew while waiting for their meals.
For nights that get a little chilly, equip your outside eating area with an outdoor patio heater. Utilizing natural or propane gas to generate warmth, these heaters are available in a wide assortment of styles and sizes. Some heaters conveniently sit atop tables, while others are tall enough to stand on their own.
Lavishing your outdoor patio with attractive items like plants and flowers can help the area be more inviting to potential diners. Just make sure not to display flowers that can induce allergic reactions from customers. Another decoration option, candles are great for setting an alluring ambiance. Fire pits are both aesthetically-pleasing and practical—as they keep patrons warm on chilly summer nights. If you really want to go all out, outfit your dining area with an elegant water fountain.
Depending on how much space you have and what type of restaurant you’re operating, consider offering fun outdoor games like cornhole and shuffleboard. Many establishments like to hang tasteful strings of lights overhead to provide delicate but functional lighting. If patrons are accustomed to hearing music at your restaurant, you will also want to outfit your outside eating area with a stereo system. Providing an inviting atmosphere is especially important for restaurants whose patios are in front where passers-by have clear views.
Equipping Your Tables
Make sure to stock your outdoor tables with everything that’s usually provided on your indoor tables. So whether you offer condiment squeeze bottles, salt & pepper shakers, oil & vinegar cruets, spice shakers, or entire condiment caddies indoors, make sure to remain consistent and provide the same items at your outdoor dining area. Vinyl table covers are also popular for outdoor dining because they make clean-up easy and provide further protection for the table. By using a skirt clip, you can help ensure your table covers remain stable and in-place.
Especially if your restaurant is situated in a hot, humid region of the country, bugs like mosquitoes, flies, yellow jackets, wasps, and hornets can be a constant source of irritation for customers. To combat this, equip your outdoor dining area with an electric or glue insect trapper. Other options for pest removal include citronella candles and bug spray.
Although the law varies by state, some restaurants are allowed to keep epinephrine on hand in the form of an epi-pen. When someone who’s allergic bee stings get stung, an epi-pen shot can be the difference between life and death. Keeping your restaurant stocked with up-to-date epi-pens is a small price to pay to potentially save a customer’s life.
Offering a Bar
On warm summer nights, customers love flocking to trendy outdoor bars. If there’s room in your outdoor patio, install a unique outdoor bar that has a style all its own. Make sure to choose bar stools that complement the style you're going for. In the event that you don’t have enough space to install a permanent bar, consider using a portable bar. Make sure you also have the bartending supplies, bar blenders, and underbar equipment necessary for your staff to operate at peak efficiency.
If your restaurant’s patio is new or underperforming, you might want to consider offering food or drink specials to customers who choose to dine there. This is particularly applicable to restaurant’s whose patios are in front and visible for the whole world to see. If potential customers frequently walk or drive by your establishment and see that no one is ever dining there, they’ll be less likely to try out your restaurant themselves. But if the porch is packed with diners, people will assume your restaurant is worth giving a shot.
Smoking or No-Smoking
You’ll want to clearly label whether your patio is a smoking or non-smoking area. If your patio is large enough, you can even designate specific sections for both. The type of restaurant you operate—and whether it attracts smokers or non-smokers—should play a large role in whatever you decide.
Many customers venture out specifically looking for a restaurant where they can eat outdoors and enjoy the beautiful weather. By offering an outdoor patio, you put yourself in the running to attract these curious patrons and convert them to repeat customers.