As springtime starts to roll northward across the nation, restaurant operators’ thoughts turn to outdoor dining.
While patios are a year-round staple of Sun Belt dining, they remain an important piece of expanded restaurant real estate, from sidewalk cafes in New York and Rush Street-side seating in Chicago to beach-side tables in Miami or San Diego.
“Patio dining, when done well, is a great asset, especially to Millennials but not exclusive to Millennials,” said Dennis Lombardi, leader of Dublin, Ohio-based WD Partners’ operations consulting group. “It’s a great socializing event, especially as a bar area.”
Patios can be an important distinguishing element in the customer’s mind, Lombardi noted. “The psyche of having outdoor dining strikes a chord,” he said.
In addition, Lombardi said patios can be a tool to increase frequency and breadth of guests by offering, for example, live entertainment at night. “Live entertainment can be a piece of the puzzle to change the atmosphere,” he said, and leads to strong happy hour and late-night happy hour business.
However, said Lombardi, operators must keep some considerations top of mind when offering use of a patio. “One thing you have to keep in mind, especially with patio dining of any scale, is the logistics of getting service to the customer,” he advised. “A lot of times, that’s almost an after-thought in what servers have to do to get the food there, as well as what can be done in the patio as far as having a service bar.”
He also noted that patios should be screened well from pedestrian sidewalk and vehicular street traffic and should also provide some protection from the elements of weather.
Nation’s Restaurant News spoke with three restaurant brands — fast-casual Taco Cabana, premium casual-dining concept Kona Grill and independent operator The Lot — to get their tips on how to capitalize on patio business.