People are rediscovering the joys of year-round al fresco dining. Restaurants turned to outdoor dining out of necessity to keep their patrons and staff safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the trend shows signs of outlasting pandemic precautions.
- The National Restaurant Association’s 2021 State of the Restaurant Report Industry report notes that 62% of fine-dining establishments and 56% of casual dining restaurants have developed and expanded outdoor dining areas since the pandemic began.
- More than 40% of full-service restaurants took advantage of city programs that allow them to use sidewalks, streets, and parking lots as dining areas.
- Even when the temperature drops below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, 85% of people planning to visit a restaurant would take a seat in an outdoor temperature-controlled and ventilated tent, and 70% of all adults would be willing to do so.
To take full advantage of outdoor dining’s potential, restaurants need POS table management features that support outside seating. Here are 10 things to keep in mind when planning your restaurant’s expansion into the great outdoors.
1. Take advantage of streamlined permitting processes
Most cities and towns have expedited their procedures for issuing permits to restaurants for creating outdoor dining spaces. In addition to expanding into adjacent parking lots and onto nearby sidewalks, some cities allow establishments to set up tables in what were formerly street parking spaces. For example, San Francisco’s parklet program for converting parking spots into mini public parks and art spaces now includes use of the spaces by restaurants and bars for permanent outdoor service.
2. Start with a few tables, but plan for expansion
Restaurants typically begin their outdoor dining efforts with two or three tables immediately outside the eatery’s front or side door. Once their customers take to outdoor dining, they make more elaborate plans, such as creating a deck for outdoor tables with permanent fixtures and decor. Forbes identifies al fresco dining as one of the “contactless-chic” restaurant trends that will maintain its popularity well into the future. Contactless POS terminals are the perfect complement to outdoor restaurant operations.
3. Optimize your use of the space available to your restaurant
In the immediate vicinity of nearly every restaurant are attractive outdoor spaces that are suitable for use as dining areas.
- B.B. Lemon, a restaurant in Houston, converted a 1,500-square-foot yard adjacent to the restaurant into a dining patio with twinkling lights, cabanas with private tables, and other amenities to create a resort-like setting.
- San Francisco fine-dining venue The Vault pivoted quickly from a “clubby underground lair” into a massive courtyard near the Bank of America building, in effect creating an entirely new restaurant designed to accommodate pandemic-related restrictions in an open, airy, and attractive space.
4. Give diners plenty of space for comfort, privacy, and safety
When planning your outdoor table layout, keep the safety and comfort of diners in mind while also considering the needs of your servers. POS table management features provide a bird’s eye view of the table and seating positions of multiple dining areas, including tables inside and outside the building. Separate tables and make sure your customers are protected against the elements, as well as street traffic and noise levels.
5. Make the rules for outdoor dining clear to your patrons
Restaurant customers may not be aware of when wearing a mask is required, how to move through areas, and other policies in place for their safety and that of your staff. Some restaurants have begun giving their guests information cards explaining their safety policies. Servers should communicate the restaurant’s safety measures to guests as soon and as often as possible. The CDC describes the factors restaurants need to consider to provide a safe dining environment and ways they can help reduce the spread of the virus.
6. Don’t skimp on outdoor decorations and atmosphere
Some restaurants get creative with their outdoor operations. The hottest restaurant trends in 2021 are focused on finding innovative ways to use outdoor spaces around the establishment.
- Express kitchens, or kitchen-only restaurants rely on an ordering kiosk and a waiting area, with no seating whatsoever.
- Walkup windows for picking up orders provide fast service and safety for customers and staff. The windows are usually fashioned from an existing window or exterior door.
- Dining pods enclose tables and chairs in walls of plastic or plexiglass. The transparent structures are about the size of a large shed and offer privacy and safety.
- Rooftop dining and drive-in service depend on the restaurant’s location and structure. Eateries without much external space available can use whatever resource is available to serve customers outside the dining room.
7. Use furniture and other items that are suitable for outdoor settings
For your customers’ comfort, it’s important to provide quality outdoor furniture made of high-grade materials and suitable for the outdoor setting. Take advantage of exterior lighting and creative signage to provide a pleasing dining environment. Keep in mind that lights are intended primarily for customer safety, but make sure to avoid overlighting the outdoor dining area. Among the staples of outdoor dining are patio heaters, umbrellas, and retractable awnings.
8. Create a new floor plan for your dining area that incorporates outdoor tables
The advanced table layout features of modern cloud-based POS software make it easy to create rooms containing tables and obstacles using a clear dashboard interface. Orders can be started from the table view, including the number of guests, the server, and a customer account when applicable. You can even track how long guests have occupied the tables and use color codes for tables that have passed preset thresholds (warning time and overtime).
9. Consider menu changes to accommodate dining outdoors
Some restaurants have benefited by trimming the menu for outdoor dining and focusing on foods and drinks that are suitable for the environment. Many foods are well-suited to being served outdoors, such as salads and cool desserts in the summer, and cocoa and hearty soups and stews on cooler days and nights.
10. Let people know that your outdoor dining area is open for business
A restaurant’s regular customers may not be aware of its new outdoor dining area, so take advantage of social media, email campaigns, brochures, and other methods to publicize the new dining options. Among the ways small restaurants can promote themselves are by reaching out to other businesses in the neighborhood, creating an inviting online presence, offering two-for-one deals and other specials, and celebrating something, such as the new outdoor dining area or innovative changes to the menu.
Putting all the restaurant POS pieces together requires the assistance of a knowledgeable partner such as talech that will take the time to learn about your business needs and craft a solution that is complete, scalable, easy to implement, and tailored to your budget. Visit the talech site to sign up for a free demo to see advanced POS software in action.
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