Whether you're in the Midwest – where making the most of every spring day and summer night is a priority – or you’re fortunate enough to experience tranquil weather year-round, expanding your restaurant or brewery with a patio requires more than simple access to square footage. Adequate preparation, design work and planning for the unexpected are also part of that recipe for success.
Here are seven tips to consider when creating an outdoor patio space for your guests – both first time customers and regulars alike.
#1: Unravel the red tape
As you might expect, there's a fair amount of red tape that needs unraveling before the process of building or expanding your patio space can begin. Do your research and follow the letter of the law, while abiding by any additional regulations enforced by city ordinances.
If your building is being leased, the first stop should be with the landlord. Bring them up to speed on your plans for any modifications that may increase the property value or present additional insurance liability risks. Enlist your local zoning commission to verify that all construction permits are completed and reviewed for approval before breaking ground. Consult with your local health department about the legal ramifications of tobacco use and the allowance of pets. Lastly, if alcohol is a part of your plan, make sure that outdoor service is covered by your liquor license.
#2: Design for success
Taking advantage of warm weather to drive traffic is the end goal. Providing more seating options and a larger outdoor space should result in additional business. However, adding a patio space needs to be more than just a concrete slab and a dozen patio tables and chairs. The design of your new space needs to be smart.
Consider the various entrances to the main building. Where will your service staff be walking? Keep your employees top of mind so that serving customers from the new patio doesn’t become a burden. Will there be a full-service bar or perhaps a grill included in the design? If so, verify that the new space can accommodate it and that it doesn’t result in overcrowding or reduced seating capacity.
#3: Make it comfortable and inviting
A thoughtful design is essential for your staff, but comfort is essential for your customers. Whether you’re aiming for a rustic look with wooden picnic tables or a more modern feel with metal chairs and cushions, make sure that it aligns with the rest of your branding. Don’t stray too far from what has made your business successful. The ambiance needs to be consistent for both groups of customers: those that request an indoor space and those that prefer the sun or an evening under the stars.
Use appropriate lighting at night that emphasizes the experience you are trying to create. Consider greater seclusion and privacy through the use of dividers, planters or a well-made wooden fence. Lastly, each table should have its own umbrella. This sends a warm and inviting message to those (potential) customers passing by, while also providing some needed shade from the midday sun.
#4: Prepare for inconsistent weather
When mother nature decides to make plans of her own, make sure you’re prepared. Brace for late nights or cool temperatures by having patio heaters or a fire pit at the ready. Patio table umbrellas shield your guests from direct sunlight and cool them down when the temperatures rise, but they do little to protect them when the rain begins to fall. Consider installing additional awnings or a large canopy to keep things dry. Take the local weather report with a grain of salt, as clear skies can quickly turn to black clouds. If that situation arises, be ready to act quickly to make sure your guests are safe and can continue enjoying their visit.
#5: Don't forget about pest control
It’s inevitable. Whether you’re in the middle of the city or off the beaten path, unwelcome guests – those that fly, crawl and scurry – will eventually crash your party. Birds will perch on umbrellas, insects will hover over plates and the occasional chipmunk will invite itself to the table. But a diligent wait staff can work together to ensure the invasion doesn’t take a turn for the worse.
Maintain a rigid cleaning routine, clear tables of food and drinks as soon as the customer leaves and consider hiring a pest control service. Also, be on the lookout for guests that are clearly not enjoying themselves due to nature’s uninvited presence. Offer them a table indoors and a free round of drinks to ensure they remember the good experiences they had more than things that "bugged" them.
#6: Consider your serving options
Accidents happen. Plates get dropped and glasses get knocked over, more often that you might think. Even a strong gust of wind could unexpectedly tip a table full of dinnerware. And outside, where a cushioned floor is likely replaced with unforgiving concrete or stone, these accidents amount to even greater replacement costs.
Knowing your options when stocking up on your patio dinnerware and glassware can make a significant difference. Depending on the ambiance and style you're going for, consider replacing fine china with melamine dishes. Made from an organic industrial compound, melamine is a hard plastic that is dishwasher safe, tolerant of both hot and cold uses and incredibly difficult to break. Similarly, a thick and durable, yet nicely designed plastic glass is a great solution for many types of drinks. Combined with a classy table setting – including quality flatware, linen tablecloth and an inspired centerpiece – your guests won't even notice the difference.
#7: Spread the word and create a buzz
You’ve invested time, energy, and resources to create an outdoor patio space. Make sure your regulars and first time guests know about it! Create a buzz around the grand unveiling by engaging your customers through social media. For example, you could regularly post pictures of the work in progress. Hold a contest for customers to name the new space, or perhaps designate a new craft beer in its honor. Whatever you do, be proactive and consistent with your marketing efforts. Your new patio space is sure to succeed - but only if people know about it and are encouraged to visit.
Loved our ideas? Download a checklist of these tips so you can stay on track as you create the patio dining experience of your customers' dreams.