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Creating an Experience with Outdoor Dining

Research by Big Hospitality showed that almost 80% of diners spend more time at restaurants when dining outdoors. And during this time, they’re enjoying more drinks and food and the lovely ambiance created by the great outdoors. 

If you’re a restauranteur or an operator looking to maximize every source of revenue, offering al fresco dining could play a big part in increasing profits and delighting guests. So, let’s explore the world of outdoor dining and how restaurants are expanding their footprint and getting some fresh air in the process. 

The Challenges of Al Fresco Dining

We know many of you who are located in the northern realms may be wondering if this is a viable option, or limited to southern hospitality establishments where the challenges are overcome with misters and fans. While we’d like to move on and not mention the “C” word anymore, the truth is that it challenged our industry in ways never before experienced. Out of it came solutions never-before thought of. One of those was creating outdoor dining areas regardless of the weather. 

While some restaurants are better suited for waiting until the first thaw and the signs of spring, others can create exceptional spaces with everyday additions, like heaters, large patio umbrellas, and cozy blankets. Some go the extra mile with canopies, enclosures with transparent vinyl patio curtains, igloos, fire pits, and fireplaces. 

The Benefits of Outdoor Dining

Did you know your food tastes better when your customers eat it outdoors? Scientifically speaking, our environment greatly affects our physical sensations. Our outdoor areas have long been associated with relaxation—whether lounging in a hammock or playing some sports—and this link translates to a greater sense of peace and, without conscious awareness, slowing down and really tasting the food we eat while breathing in the fresh air.  

Additionally, not only have you added more seating, but those patrons stay longer, spend more, and act as a calling card to people passing by. If allowed in your area, setting aside certain days or times when guests can bring their canine pals also brings in new clientele and can even increase check sizes if you add some dog-friendly treats to the menu. Currently, 12 states allow dogs to enjoy outdoor dining. These include California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.  

Creating an Enchanting Retreat

Another benefit born of the pandemic was cities and counties waiving regulations regarding al fresco dining. These allowed restaurants to turn sidewalks, parking spaces, and other once-off-limit areas into outdoor patios. We realized what was possible, and many places are asking legislators to continue this “free-spirited” approach to outdoor dining. For instance, cities like Boston have announced a comprehensive plan to allow outdoor dining on streets and sidewalks if they meet state building code requirements.

Of course, if you have other possibilities, like a rooftop or garden area, you’ve hit jackpot. In a recent interview with Gerry Cottle, founder and CEO of Rooftop Cinema Club, he spoke about the incredible experiences he offers his guests who enjoy watching movies on a big screen on rooftops in urban settings. They enjoy dinner, drinks, and a high-performance cinematic experience under the stars. And, apparently, they’re coming back for more, with several venues in London, nine locations in the U.S., and plans for expansion.

As with most things in life, the first impression is make-or-break. You don’t want your guests feeling underwhelmed when they view your outdoor space but rather overjoyed. Some of the greatest outdoor dining areas use plants, hanging lights, candles, lanterns, and torches designed around a theme. If you need a visual, check out OpenTable’s 100 Best Outdoor Restaurants in America for 2022. OpenTable based the rankings on 13.6 million verified reviews on the platform, with 25 states making the list. Some common ingredients include incredible views, a fabulous experience, and delicious food.

As you know, it’s all about the experience and giving your guests something to remember. From outdoor grilling, menus designed for outdoor customers, patio bars, and a unique and inviting ambiance, if you give them an experience to remember, they’ll be back for more.

At EMERGING, our team of data scientists, analysts, real estate experts, creatives, and business professionals help our restaurant and entertainment concepts reach their next level. Through identifying opportunities and establishing long- and short-term goals, we help them uncover a clear path to success and excellence. To learn more about partnering with our team or to schedule a consultation, contact EMERGING today.


What restaurants have the best outdoor dining? 

According to OpenTable, a few restaurants to make the top 100 outdoor experiences include El Dorado Kitchen in Sonoma, Latitudes in Key West, Coastal Fish Company in Memphis, Girl & the Goat in Los Angeles, Piccolo Sogno in Chicago, and Green Valley Grill in Greensboro.

How do I create a memorable outdoor restaurant dining experience?

The key to creating a great memory is enhancing your outdoor space and making it stand out. This is accomplished through exceptional lighting, including pendants, string lights, and candles. If you have room, an outdoor fire pit creates an outstanding ambiance. Outdoor areas take advantage of plants and water fountains, elements that encompass nature. Some restaurants provide a few specials unique to their outdoor areas, and all find music enhances the atmosphere.

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