Operating Profitable Restaurant and Bar Patios
A critical component for generating revenue, creating an inviting, entertaining – and functioning – patio can be a massive return on investment for restaurant owners.
It’s not as simple as slapping some tables and chairs out in the sunshine for your guests; making a profitable patio for your business is a nuanced and intuitive process.
Here are some helpful guidelines for getting the most out of your outdoor dining room this patio season.
The first thing guests will see – and feel – is how your outdoor dining areas are set up.
You don’t want your restaurant patio tables on top of each other (COVID-19 issues aside), which counters any privacy and makes it difficult for guests to travel through and staff to maintain an efficient flow.
But you also don’t want groups sitting a mile apart so that they feel like they’re on an island.
Try to set up your outdoor seating so guests have personal space, but can still see what’s happening around them, feel the ambiance, feel the energy of the crowd around them and can move easily to get to different spots of the patio.
Yes, patio lights aren’t necessary during the day, when that big star in the sky illuminates things perfectly fine—but the evening is another story.
Evening service, after the Sun goes down, is generally the most profitable time for restaurant operators, so unless you’re intentionally having guests dine in the dark, lighting is key.
You don’t want overly bright spotlights and floodlights blinding everyone; aim for something that replicates the vibe and feeling of inside your venue...only with fresh air outdoors.
Whether that’s some string lighting across your patio walls, planters and decorations adorned with lights or table-top candles, keep it smart but subtle.
Mix It Up
This isn’t an office cubicle or a prison...it’s a restaurant. Avoid setting out rows of (the same) tables and chairs in a neat and orderly fashion.
Instead, have different areas on your patio—a dining area, a lounge area, an outdoor bar spot. Have four-tops, two-tops, and bigger tables. Vary the height with bar height tables.
Give yourself flexibility to move things to accommodate guests and give them a different (but always great) experience every time.
If your guests aren’t comfy, they aren’t coming back—or even staying right away. As sturdy as metal chairs and bar stools are, they are also massive heat conductors (note: the Sun) and aren’t the softest surfaces to sit on.
Try to put coverings on your chairs if you do opt for metal, or try using a solid chair made out of a different material. Or possibly even go with…
...cushions for your seats! Who doesn’t like a nice, soft pillow to sit on? Be sure, however, if you do go this route, that you get cushions which are moisture resistant and don’t stain easily and are easy to clean when flipping tables between guests.
Believe it or not, some people don’t actually like the Sun...but they do like being outside. There are also people that want to sit outside, even if it’s raining.
That’s where umbrellas come in. It’s important to have umbrellas with a sturdy base, but not too big that it will be a nuisance to guests.
Do you want these umbrellas to be easily adjusted by guests themselves, or done strictly by your staff? Think of how long it takes for umbrellas to be opened/closed, because asking staff to do so in the middle of a busy rush can be unpleasant for them, the guests and the overall flow of the restaurant.
In the early spring, late fall, and even sometimes the middle of summer, guests will find it a little chilly in the evenings, we do live in Canada.
Keeping them warm with patio heaters is an easy solution. Choose heaters that don’t take up a ton of valuable patio real estate, and have ones that – like umbrellas – are quick and easy to turn on, to not eat up too much of your staff’s time during a busy dinner rush.
Having any kind of installments – be it walls, windows or windbreakers – can help cut down on the wind and any negative effects it may bring, but be sure not to use things that isolate the patio: You still want to encourage walk-ins and draw interest from passersby...and they won’t want to go into a place they can’t see.
Colours add life to your space! The use of colour is also the easiest to convey – and reinforce – your theme and your brand.
Utilizing colour for an outdoor patio, however, requires some careful choice: white and beige can get dirty very easily (and require constant cleaning/monitoring) while black can also show dust with ease.
Don’t go overboard with whimsical and sensory overloads (unless that’s your theme?) but keep it fun, vibrant and enticing.
Depending on your restaurant, you may want to change your menu to be patio-appropriate.
That means possibly modifying (or removing) items that could be easily affected by wind or other natural elements.
You may also need to keep in mind how far your patio is away from the kitchen: items that are particularly heavy, awkward to carry or very delicate may not be the best to offer if it means carrying it over a long distance.
The same also applies to your bar program. Do you have a permanent patio bar? Does it offer all the drinks that your primary bar puts out? Keep that in mind for your patio menu, as having things come from only one area can put a lot of extra stress on your bartenders and their production output...and negatively impact wait times.
There are a number of other things you can install to help your patio run better, improve the dining experience and customer service.
This can be as basic as a primary patio bar (or satellite bars offering simple items), beverage displays and/or samples that can tide guests over while waiting for their orders and things such as outdoor cooking stations that can add to the audio, visual and sensory experiences for patio goers.
These unique offerings paired with careful attention to setting up your patio will attract customers, keep them comfortable and coming back for more.
Written by Jared Hochman
Need some new outdoor tables and chairs? Check out our helpful Commercial Patio Furniture Buying Guide!