As the summer months wane, many restaurant operators are faced with diminishing revenue that comes from their outdoor patio. Others have failed to invest in outdoor seating, believing the return would not be worth the cost. Research suggests otherwise. When Simons Advisory Group conducted a business analysis for a client, they found that an investment of $200,000 would lead to a return of $500,000—a gross profit of 65 percent. Not only does an outdoor dining area increase seating, it also increases visibility, exposure, and clientele that are specifically looking for a restaurant where they can enjoy an outdoor oasis.
Creating an Outdoor Seating Area
Before creating your outdoor oasis, be sure to check in with the county clerk in order to determine if there are regulations or codes that need to be addressed. Permits and guidelines vary by both state and county.
One of the most important considerations is how to extend your restaurant’s ambiance to the outside dining area. It’s crucial that you take into account your brand and how to complement instead of detract from your interior décor.
In addition, make sure that the furniture you choose is all-weather resistant and easy to clean and maintain. Large planters can transform outdoor areas into fragrant gardens that are enhanced by candles and twinkle-lights.
Comfort, of course, is key. If you can find comfortable chairs that are stackable, you’ve found a great combination. Be sure to store the seating cushions at night or during inclement weather.
And, if you have the room, creating some space for bar seating is a definite bottom-line booster. An outdoor bar station may take away from some seating but, as you know, specialty cocktails and craft beers can be high-profit items. According to Restaurant Business, a survey conducted by Study Hall Research showed that more than 40 percent of Millennials spent more money on alcohol when dining outdoors.
Another nice addition, if room allows, is a grill or pizza oven. The smell and visual appearance can entice guests to order that perfectly grilled New York steak instead of their usual shrimp appetizer.
Unfortunately, the smell of delicious food may also attract your local insects, birds and squirrels. For this reason, be sure to maintain a system for clearing away plates as soon as your guests are finished with their meal and clean-up any spills immediately. A bug zapper may need to be installed if your area is particularly vulnerable.
Extending the Season
There are functional design elements that can help extend the season while adding to the ambiance. One of the most important is outdoor heating which has been shown to extend the patio season by about two months. Some electric infrared heaters even have misters that can help heat the area during the cooler months and cool off the area during the hot summer months. An alternative for those areas with proper ventilation is propane or natural gas heaters.
Adding a firepit offers some heat and is a great visual draw to entice new customers. In the Northeast and Midwest climates, you’ll often find customers that are drawn to al fresco dining in the cooler months when firepits light up the space, offering them the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors before the cold winter months descend.
A motorized louvered roof allows you to control sunlight, air circulation, and protection should an afternoon rain shower arrive. Lure—a restaurant in Atlanta, GA—is an example of an establishment that has used this type of roofing in their favor.
Wind management can be achieved with drops or curtains that roll down. Some of these screens can withstand wind speeds up to 200 MPH and are controlled with the flip of a switch.
The Patio Enhancement Group provides a RevCalc calculator that gives you an estimated increase in annual revenue based on the number of outdoor tables, extra weeks of service, additional table turns, and the revenue per patron.
Depending on your set-up, an outdoor dining area may be one of your best advertising assets. With the right lighting, materials and flowering plants, your outdoor seating can become an oasis that will entice both new and returning customers. Check out this Food & Wine article for inspiration. It shows some of the best outdoor dining areas in the country.