Outdoor dining ideas that will help you use your restaurant patio all year long

Published August 18, 2021

Outdoor dining areas are great for many reasons. Table turns are usually a little quicker, the energy is less formal and there’s a lot more movement.

A bustling patio area serves as great advertising for your restaurant because it lets passersby visualize the liveliness of your establishment. People are naturally drawn to trending and popular places.

Everyone has likely dined in one of these outdoor spaces and patios. Restaurants express their style through different decorations and furniture, and a streetside patio makes it easy for newcomers to see exactly what kind of ambiance they’re in for. What’s more, if the weather is nice, nothing beats dining outside.

So can you maximize the use of your patio year-round when the weather is not always ideal?  Here are some tips for every season. 

Making use of your restaurant’s patio in the winter

First and foremost, equip your restaurant’s patio with plenty of heat sources.

It’s a no brainer and makes all the difference when it comes to creating an outdoor atmosphere that’s comfortable and inviting, even during the coldest months of the year. Some great options include heat lamps, fireplaces or tent structures that keep the heat inside. Tents can range from a standard canvas covering to a high-end pavilion with windows, shades and heating.

Also, opt for furniture that retains heat. Make sure your patio sets aren’t made of metal, which gets cold extremely fast. Include comfortable cushions on seats for insulation, and consider offering small blankets to guests. This serves as both an added layer of warmth and a kind gesture. Store your patio furniture inside overnight, too, and it’ll last longer despite the elements.

Another way to winterproof your outdoor dining experience while simultaneously embracing the season is to adapt your menu to the time of year. Consider adding warmer versions of popular drinks—or some wintertime classics, like hot toddies and steaming mulled wine—and offer them at a discount to guests dining on the patio. Spotlight hot foods, too, like simmering soups. And a fireside s’mores corner is always a hit among guests.  

Related: How to meet and exceed new guest expectations

Elevating your outdoor dining experience in the spring

When the ground thaws and the weather warms up, people will be eager to dine outdoors. Make sure your restaurant is prepared for the influx of people requesting tables in your patio.

If your outdoor dining area is hit by direct sunlight, consider adding large umbrellas or a tent structure with shades that can be lowered if needed. Since spring is a season associated with greenery, it’s a great idea to include live plants, flowers and herbs in your outdoor space. They add fresh scents and serve as beautiful, natural decoration. 

Making outdoor dining work in the summer

The key to creating a comfortable restaurant patio in the summer is to maximize airflow. It’s crucial to keep air moving through your space to combat the heat, so add overhead fans or even box fans if they’re hidden or decorative.

Consider offering specials on white or pink wines and fruity or fizzy drinks in the summer, when most customers usually opt for refreshing options. You can also customize your menu to spotlight summertime fruits and veggies, playing into the season and possibly even saving costs by utilizing in-season produce.

Tent structures are also great to use in the summer because they create shade. Metal furniture is also a bad choice in the summer because it conducts heat and can become very hot to the touch. Since people will be hot outside, make sure your staff is cognizant of keeping glasses filled with water and other beverages so that your guests stay hydrated.

Related: Traditional table service versus digitized dining: How different generations define the modern dining experience

Turning your restaurant patio into a must-visit spot in the fall

You get less hours of sunlight in autumn, so consider ways to bring more light to your patio. String lights are a great option — they brighten the mood (and the space) while doubling as a great background for photos. Be creative in your approach to lighting and look for unique ways to illuminate the space, like mounting lights to an outdoor wall for a more formal, romantic look.

Also consider hiring outdoor entertainment, such as musicians, before the weather gets too cold. People naturally gravitate to spaces where action takes place, and live music during the brisk autumn months is a great way to get more customers through the door. 

How to improve the outdoor dining experience for your staff and customers

You’ll want to give your staff the best restaurant POS technology so they can alternate between serving guests indoors and outdoors seamlessly. Handheld devices are a great fit for patio service. They reduce the need for servers to run back and forth to the kitchen, keeping things moving quickly and efficiently.

Also consider empowering your customers to order and pay on their own devices. Offering contactless self-ordering and payment options empowers customers, letting them order more or pay quickly without having to flag down a member of your team.

Overall, your outdoor dining space is a great resource to use in every season. With these tips and the right technology, your guests will be able to dine on your patio year-round. 

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