While eating outside during the summer is the best time, it’s not the only time.
Eating outdoors is one of the simple pleasures of the restaurant experience. When the weather is good, the food tastes better, the drinks seem stronger and the experience can’t be found anywhere else. In places like the Midwest, setting up an outdoor dining areas might seem foolish for a space that can only be enjoyed a few months out of the year. The truth is an outdoor space can be enjoyed without the permission of Mother Nature for those restaurants willing to put in a little extra effort beyond the slow and easy days of summer.
Making the Most of Outdoor Spaces
Most restaurants have some unused space on their grounds that can be considered for outdoor seating. Whether an empty lot or a courtyard out front, converting these areas into extra seating just takes a few sturdy tables and chairs for those great sunny day experiences. Even if the weather is fickle, patrons start considering eating outdoors as early as March and as late as October. You might think the summer is the only time outdoor seating is useful, but those days of hope in the spring and last gasps of summer can still bring in customers and their dollars if you have a space ready to use.
Modern designs have expanded beyond patios to include rooftops, backyard-style areas and gardens where fresh ingredients are grown daily. People watching from a busy sidewalk provides an excellent outdoor experience, but being nestled away in the fresh air also has its appeal. People come to restaurants with a desire to explore and discover. A hidden patio surrounded by tall fences appeals to this desire, giving a sense to your customers that you’re not just offering great food but also a hidden world to complete their dining experience.
Weathering the Rest of the Year
Enclosures go beyond the simple tents and screen doors of yesteryear. Modern commercial tents offer heating, windows and other features of a full building even if the structure is only a temporary cover through the heavier winter months. Shutters and lightweight windows on a patio can keep bad weather out. These pieces are often removable, so when the weather is fully in bloom, they can be removed for unblemished enjoyment.
The main component of extending an outdoor space’s utility is adding a touch of climate control. For chilly days, a fire pit can give your restaurant a camp cookout feel. Space heaters can also bring heat back to an enclosed outdoor space on days when the chill in the air might overtake comfort. On warmer days, the trick is airflow. Well placed ceiling fans move the air around, though strategic opening of windows can get a lovely spring breeze blowing. Diners often prefer the safety of air-conditioned buildings, but taking a step back using older methods to regulate and outdoor space can be enough to get people to give up perfect temperatures for unique experiences.
The Exotic Right Next Door
Not only is an outdoor space a chance to take advantage of your location, it’s a way to create an additional experience. It’s a place where you can create a variation on your concept or use it as a lab to test out new dishes that will go on the menu should they prove popular. An outdoor space can be a semi-permanent home to the dishes available from your food truck. Outdoor seating can be just extra chairs and tables. But it also could be a way to test where your restaurant can expand in the future.
Should your customers be wary of eating outdoors, consider enticing them outside with specials only available outdoors. Do you have a saison beer for the summer? Then perhaps offer it a little more cheaply on your patio during warn days where thirsty minds can appreciate the flavors more. Has your kitchen cooked up a hearty chili? Give a cup’s price for a full bowl if it’s enjoyed on the deck in the fall, or paired with a nice warm stout.
While eating outside during the summer is the best time, it is not the only time. Take advantage of outdoor space for extra seating no matter the time of year. Expand into unused areas like a rooftop garden or inner courtyard. Enclose your seating area to keep out bad weather. Adjust the temperature to the comfortable edge. Take a chance with your outdoor space to provide a new experience. Encourage customers to sample your space as they might sample a special. With these few simple steps, you can expand into new areas without risking the time and effort of a full expansion.