Patio Season: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

May 3, 2017 Taylor Moore

 

Sunshine! Cocktails! Fresh summer salads! Umbrellas! Patio season is almost upon us. It’s the time of year when languid, vitamin D deficient patrons emerge from their delivery-only hibernation caves ready to soak up some sun and sip on a Corona – or five.

 

For many restaurants, it’s the most wonderful time of the year! But the pressure is on too: Opening up a new seating area for your restaurant adds a whole new paradigm to your restaurant’s labor, operations and profit base. A successful patio season can have lasting effects, boosting your business year round. But the opposite is also true. So, the question is: Are you ready? Well you’re about to be! Here are five tips and tricks to set your patio season up for success.

 

 

Patio Setup

First things first, it’s time to prepare the patio. That means washing those rain/snow/sleet-ridden gates and windows, power washing the leaf stained floor, and inspecting patio seating and equipment. Umbrellas stowed over the winter could be in a state of disrepair, meaning you either need to reach out to your beer sponsors for new umbrella swag or make a – costly – visit to the hardware store. Either way, you’ve got to ensure your patio has a balance of sun and shade for those who love to bask and those who are sun sensitive. And then there’s outdoor lighting. Someone gets the savory duty of emptying lamp posts of bugs and checking string lights for stragglers...yahoo!

 

Checklist:

  • Furniture repairs and replacements

  • Deep clean of patio furniture

  • Lighting

 

 

Bug Proofing

There’s nothing quite like sipping a glass of white wine to the sound of wasps buzzing stinging threats into your ear. Beyond shade and fixing rickety furniture, stocking up on insect provisions is also important. Consider purchasing some insect repelling plants, like lavender or chrysanthemums. Not only do they add to the outdoor feel of your patio, but they also smell good - to us humans at least. Tiki torches can create a fun vacation ambiance, enough to make one forget they’re stuck in the city, all the while doubling as an invisible bug fence. Citronella coils or candles work as well when placed directly on tables. They also add a nice personal touch from the server who, when lighting them, seemingly is just setting the mood.

 

Checklist:

  • Bug repelling flowers

  • Citronella candles or coils

  • Tiki torches

 

 

Service and Operations Fine Tuning

From the patio, to the bar, to the patio, to the kitchen, one arm full of dishes, a tray of drinks on the head, while trying to kick the patio door open – patio servers have a tough go. They’ve got to navigate their section outside, which is often the furthest possible point from the kitchen and,  depending on the layout, sometimes even the computer. An old patio server rule of thumb is to do a sweep of every table anytime they go outside. This means getting waiters, taking orders, and clearing tables in one fell swoop. While effective, this takes time. A few one off requests in a row and a server will quickly find themselves holding onto orders for far too long without sending them off to the kitchen. This results in long wait times for customers and human errors.

 

How can you help? By bringing indoor parts of a server’s workflow, outdoors. The key to fine tuning patio operations is twofold: 1. A mobile POS and 2. An outdoor bussing station.

 

The mobile, tablet based POS has revolutionized the way patio servers can do their jobs. With the ability to submit orders to the kitchen and bar from the table side, they can maximize their outside time with guests, getting orders in immediately, rather than rushing back to the terminal to complete the input. Not only do servers then have more band-width, but they’re able to better serve the needs of their patrons without being out of sight for too long.

 

An outdoor bussing station, fully equipped with cutlery, side plates, menus, napkins, a garbage and any other bussing items a server could require will drastically reduce the time lost moving in and out of your restaurant. Just ensure minimal food waste goes into the outdoor garbage so you don’t attract bugs.  

 

Checklist:

  • Mobile POS

  • Bussing station

 

 

Patio Events

Nothing says “COME TO OUR PATIO!” like a live band, a balmy night, and a party. And it’s been a long, cold winter so your first task is to remind patrons why they should be taking to your patio over Joe’s down the street. When you're planning your patio opener, it’s a great time to revisit local bylaws to ensure you’re not infringing on any noise restrictions. For subsequent patio events, creating a calendar well ahead of time can help determine your staffing needs, as well as get marketing efforts underway early to avoid any last minute scrambling. To differentiate your event, consider hiring a band or featuring a speciality dish, like a crawfish boil or a roasted pig on a spit, paired with a beer special. These little perks will be the maker (not the breaker) when the sun is shining on every patio.

 

Checklist:

  • Kick off party

  • Event calendar

  • Live band

  • Special dinner events

 

 

Patio Specials and Summer Menus

No patio is complete without a light, summer inspired menu. From gazpacho to fish tacos to a leafy green salad, there’s a reason for the light fare: summer makes us crave foods with high water content. When sitting in the heat of the summer sun, guests are probably sweating. According to HungryHouse, “[sweating] makes us crave foods that have a high percentage of water content to replenish our supply of fluids. This includes watermelon (94%), grapefruit (90%), peppers (92%), zucchini (95%) and strawberries (94%) which are luckily in season.” What’s more is that our cravings also move from hot – think ‘hearty stew’ hot – to spicy - like chili pepper calamari. This is because spice activates our internal cooling system. So when you’re creating your summer specials, think cooling foods, ripe with water content and a punch of spice.

 

 

Staffing

Whether you’ve got a thunderstorm to contend with or a line up out the door, staffing is the main juggling act of restaurant managers in the summer. Too many, not enough – it’s time to get out last year’s sales reports to compare against this year’s projections. This way, you’ll be able to more accurately hire and staff both your patio and your indoor dining room.

 

When creating your schedule, you’ll need to take weather into consideration. Rain might mean that your patio is closed for the day, but it could also mean that your bar area is about to get jammed. Scheduling staff for on-call shifts when weather forecasts are sketchy is one way to manage rain, but what about when the weather suddenly clears mid dinner seating? A culture of teamwork is essential when the weather can’t make up its mind. Training hosts, runners and bar backs to become jacks of all trades can mean the difference of a busy night where staff and customers leave happy, or a night where staff is run down and customers leave unsatisfied.

 

Checklist:

  • Sales and labor report analysis

  • Weather tracking

  • Staff training


 

Marketing on Point

When everyone’s got a patio, how are people going to find yours? Go back to the basics; use both traditional and digital marketing methods in order to get your patio bumping.

 

The advantages of the digital word of mouth have a long tail effect. In addition to the regular geo-tagging, hashtagging and day-to-day posting, you can immediately ramp up your social media game with cheap and cheerful Facebook and Instagram advertising. Then, work to pitch influencers and media. Whether it’s a food writer from Time Out New York or BlogTO, or a local food blogger, use their third party influence, readership and following to ignite the buzz. To learn more about social media influencers and how they can be leveraged, check out this article.

 

Back to the more traditional methods, the coupon is still one of the most effective ways to get people in your doors. Whether it’s delivered by way of email marketing or by hand outs to local businesses, a good deal travels fast. Even better, the summer is a perfect time to engage with your community. Showcase your wares by investing in a tent at a local festival or event. The effect of these efforts go beyond merely filling your patio, but will also serve to expose your offerings to a wider variety of prospective customers.

 

Checklist:

  • Revamp social media strategy

  • Pitch local blogs and influencers

  • Email newsletter

  • Coupons

  • Events

 


A successful patio season doesn’t just ensure a busy, profit-yielding summer season when spirits are high. No, no. The effects of a memorable experience at your patio travel long, and will serve to get people in your doors come winter, spring, summer, or fall *cue James Taylor*.

 

 

 

About the Author

Taylor Moore

Taylor is a Content Marketing Manager at TouchBistro who writes about food trends, restaurant best practices, and tech innovations for the foodservice industry. She never says no to dessert and is on a life-long hunt for the best cheeseburger in the world.

More Content by Taylor Moore
Previous Article
Creative Ways to Embrace Ontario’s Healthy Menu Choices Act
Creative Ways to Embrace Ontario’s Healthy Menu Choices Act

Next Article
Licences For US Restaurants
Licences For US Restaurants

Find out what you need to set up shop in the U.S.

×

I want to get great restaurant reads in my inbox!

Full Name
Phone Number
Venue Name
Opt-in to emails on industry tips, tricks & best practices
Thanks for subscribing!
Error - something went wrong!