The cold winter months are finally beginning to fade, which means that warmer weather—and the al fresco dining that comes with it—is right around the corner. As the days get longer, you're probably starting to think about restaurant patio ideas that can draw a summer-loving crowd to your eatery in the coming months. Luckily, we've got you covered.
Now is the perfect time to start planning how you’ll offer the same dining experience in an outdoor dining space. These 8 ideas, tips, and tricks will help create an outdoor dining area you and your guests will love.
Get Creative with Outdoor Space
The COVID-19 pandemic taught us that a restaurant doesn't need an actual patio to offer outdoor dining. Anywhere you can fit tables and seating can work—a side yard, a back alley, even a rooftop patio, if one is available at your restaurant.
But not all restaurants have outdoor space, and that's OK! Luckily, you can still offer guests the opportunity to dine in the sunny summer weather. Open up doors and windows, or, if you can, install garage doors that allow you to create a transitional, indoor-outdoor space that brings the fresh air right into your existing dining room.
Check Local Laws and Regulations
If your restaurant doesn't already have a dedicated outdoor space and you're planning to get creative and add one this spring or summer, be sure to check and follow all local laws and regulations. Some things to consider are:
- Will your patio be dog-friendly, and is that allowed in your area?
- Can you allow smoking in outdoor spaces?
- Will you serve alcohol on your patio, and if so, what rules dictate how you need to separate it from the surrounding area?
- What permits do you need to offer outdoor dining? Will you be adding plumbing or electric to an outdoor space, and if so, do you need a permit for that work?
- Does your area have any noise ordinances that might prohibit outdoor dining past a certain time of night?
Answering these questions early allows you to better define what your outdoor space will look like and understand how you can use it to appeal to guests.
Create the Right Ambiance
When designing your outdoor dining space, it's important to create an ambiance that matches your restaurant's brand. Use lighting and decor that create a cohesive vibe through the entire restaurant, from the dining room to the outdoor space. This will make your patio space inviting and appealing to guests.
For example, if you run a casual family eatery, you might want your outdoor space to have a similar vibe to a backyard patio, with casual outdoor furniture, colorful umbrellas, and yard games.
If your restaurant is a moody date night spot, recreate that feeling outside with cozy outdoor bistro tables and string lights.
If your restaurant is a hip and trendy brunch spot that caters to a younger crowd, maybe you can commission a local artist to paint a custom mural for your patio.
These are just a few design ideas to get you started. Every restaurant is unique, which means your patio will be too. Don't be afraid to be innovative with decor, and remember to have fun designing a space your guests will love.
Plan for Less-Than-Perfect Weather
Summer may bring sunshine, but you can’t rely on that to be the case 100% of the time. Even during peak patio season, your restaurant may experience rain, thunderstorms, wind, and other inclement weather.
Umbrellas and canopies can help keep your outdoor dining area open and comfortable even during summer rain showers. If any of your patio furniture is exposed to the elements, be sure to wipe it dry immediately after rain, so guests don't sit on wet furniture.
You might consider adding heaters to your patio space in case the evenings get too chilly for guests to eat outside comfortably—and as an added bonus, having heaters means you'll be able to use your patio in the fall months aswell.
One type of inclement weather it's important to plan for is extreme heat. Guests want to take advantage of the sunshine when they dine outside, but not if they're uncomfortably warm and exposed to harmful UV rays. Use umbrellas and awnings to offer shade, and consider adding fans or misters if your restaurant is located somewhere that's prone to extreme heat.
Get Creative with Seating
While your patio should act as an extension of your restaurant's overall brand, that doesn't mean your outdoor space should be an exact copy of your dining room.
Get creative with your patio furniture. In addition to dining tables, consider some cozier seating, like couches, where guests can kick back and relax in groups.
If your patio will be open at night, placing sectionals around a fire pit can help guests stay warm and comfortable, while adding fun seating for large groups and a design element guests are likely to love. If your patio will be a daytime brunch spot with drinks and yard games, a few hammocks can add fun, unique seating that fits into the overall vibe.
This is another area where you can experiment with different ideas, as long as you keep your restaurant's branding and audience in mind. For example, couples visiting for date night might appreciate cozy outdoor loveseats, families with lots of kids may prefer picnic tables, and busy professionals stopping in for lunch might appreciate more traditional tables and chairs where they can set up a laptop while they eat.
Incorporate Greenery Into the Design
No matter what kind of outdoor space your restaurant is adapting into a patio, you can use greenery to make it feel serene and inviting.
If you have the space for it, invest in landscape design that makes your patio look like the summer oasis you want it to be. But even if space is limited, you can use greenery in imaginative ways to decorate your space and create the perfect outdoor setting.
For example, place small potted plants on each table or use planter boxes as barriers between your seating areas and public spaces, like the sidewalk. Plants can also be used as dividers in between tables to create a cozy and private environment. If there's no room on the floor or tables for greenery, install a pergola that you can weave with vines or flowers.
Summer is the perfect time for growing some plants at your restaurant, and incorporating them into your restaurant patio design will make the space feel even more welcoming.
Prep, Mix, and Cook Outdoors
If you have the space for it, consider moving some of your drink mixing, food preparation, or cooking outside.
It promotes transparency when guests can see their food and drinks being made, which is always a positive. Plus, having an outdoor bar where guests can get drink refills saves them from having to take frequent trips back inside the restaurant. While a full outdoor kitchen may be challenging to pull off, featuring a grill or a pizza oven in your patio area will create delicious sights and smells that can tempt foot traffic to stop in for a bite.
If you choose to do any kind of food or drink preparation outdoors, make sure you follow all local laws and rules from your state and local health departments. It's also extra important to keep things clean and be proactive about pest control. Outdoors, it's easier for insects, rodents, and other pests to access your food preparation areas, which is the last thing any restaurateur—or guest—wants.
Bring the Right Technology Outside
As the restaurant industry faces a still-ongoing labor shortage, the idea of adding more tables to your staff's workloads may seem daunting. But with the right technology, you can add patio dining (and the extra revenue that comes with it) without putting that extra strain on your staff.
Contactless dining tools have exploded in popularity since the onset of the pandemic, first for safety reasons (they eliminate some of the shared touchpoints between guests and close interactions between guests and staff), and today, for how they help streamline restaurants' operations.
With contactless tools, guests can access an interactive online menu right from their own devices. They can also place their orders, split the bill, and pay from their own phones. This results in faster service and a more customized guest experience, while your restaurant reaps the benefits of faster table turnover times.
During the summer months, when your patio is at peak popularity, you'll need a digital waitlist that helps you manage guests as they arrive, communicate with them about their tables and wait times, and collect data so you can remarket to them later.
All of these tools and more are available to restaurants that use Popmenu, the only all-in-one digital toolkit made to help modern restaurants manage their online presence. Popmenu has all the tools you need to compete in the digital age, from a user-friendly website builder to direct online ordering to third-party app integrations, automated marketing tools, professional food photography, and more.
Popmenu is the perfect complement to your new patio. Schedule a free demo to try Popmenu today.
Advertise Your New Patio Space
Your patio is built and decorated. Your technology is in place. All that's left to do now is spread the word about your newest summer offering.
If you have guest contact data, reach out to past visitors via a newsletter or SMS message (and consider offering a special discount for any guest who mentions that message when they visit your new patio). You can also advertise your patio on your website and social media. On a hot summer day, a shot of a gorgeous patio and some delicious food and drinks is sure to entice.
Patio season can be one of the most profitable times of the year for restaurants—if you know how to take advantage of it. With these tips, your restaurant will be ready this summer—and for years to come.