The profitable patio

September 15, 2020

This blog post was created for and originally published by Restaurant Canada.

While likely not the reality restaurant owners imagined, many are making the best of it and creating a new restaurant experience on patios. Some have expanded their existing patios, while others have created a patio where one did not exist before. There are many considerations for operating a profitable patio, from making wise investments to extending the patio season beyond summer, all while ensuring continued compliance with social distancing requirements.

Investing in a successful patio

Since patios are not able to accommodate as many customers due to the need for physical spacing between tables, it is important for restaurant owners to consider smart investments for their patio space. Investing in comfortable seating, durable tables, shades/umbrellas, decorative lighting, plants and any other suitable furniture can help enhance the customer experience and create return patronage. Maximizing customers’ ability to enjoy the patio during different times of the day and through weather fluctuations will also help to meet customer demand—invest in shade, rain cover, lights and eventually heaters for cooler evenings.

Restaurant owners should think about their return on investment. Temporary patio extensions or permanent changes could be needed long-term, especially as indoor dining may be limited for the foreseeable future. Can your space be extended into colder months through permanent roof structures, heaters, and other modifications?

Advertise the restaurant’s inviting, comfortable, and most importantly, safe atmosphere on Instagram and other social media accounts. Additionally, investigate whether you should make outdoor space dog friendly as some customers enjoy having a meal with their dog beside them, while others will want to avoid dogs especially during COVID-19.

These are prudent investments as outdoor dining could continue to be popular. Some municipalities are seeking to keep street dining districts even after COVID-19 is no longer a concern.

Resourcing is crucial

Serving customers outdoors often requires additional effort from staff, as there is more area to cover and a great deal of running between indoor and outdoor spaces. Scheduling will be key and the weather forecast will have to be taken into account as well.

Extensive safety training to include mask wearing, physical distancing, and sanitizing is necessary in addition to allowing staff to gain experience serving in the new layout. Cross train staff where possible—for example, utilize bar staff as servers.

Organize point of sale systems outside or near the entrance to reduce time spent walking between customers and the system. Staff may develop fatigue due to extra physical effort and sanitization. Monitor staff to avoid mistakes including potential slippage around safety measures.

Innovate and adopt technology

It may be beneficial to allow customers to make table reservations for the patio. Reservations can help staff plan the space accordingly each day.

Extend the drinks menu and include the most profitable cocktails to complement your patio. High-margin summer drinks that the restaurant may have not previously offered, like margaritas, rose, and sangria could appeal to customers. Local craft beer offerings are also a great addition to the drinks menu. Dishes that allow for more casual eating will be easier to prepare and clean up. Customers might be interested in smaller bites to enjoy with drinks.

Leveraging technology, such as QR codes on each table to access food and drink menus online will help with the ordering system, while driving traffic to the restaurant’s website. If possible, allow customers to order through an app for pickup or takeaway.

Reach out to BDO

As the summer season winds down, it’s important to extend the shelf life of your outdoor space. The unpredictability of COVID-19 means restaurant operators need to be prepared for the unexpected and must be able to pivot quickly. Our professionals understand the challenges your business is dealing with in the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. We can help your business determine what is best to see you through these uncertainties. Reach out to BDO. We’re here to help.

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