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Few things beat a leisurely weekend morning spent sipping a mimosa on a restaurant patio, the first breath of summer whispering past your table as you enjoy the soundtrack of birds twittering in the background. 

Transfer that same scenario to a weekday lunch, allowing office-bound employees a much-needed midday escape. Or maybe it’s an alfresco dinner with friends, gazing at passersby as you catch up on each other’s lives.

There’s one common thread that joins these situations: patio season.

In the restaurant world, adaptation is the key to survival. Installing a patio can help you adapt to not only summer weather, but a variety of situations that could help boost your business.

Here’s what you need to know about the realities of adding a patio to your restaurant and what that strategic growth could mean in terms of costs, marketing, your aesthetic, and the overall future of your business.

How can a patio benefit my restaurant?

As of September 2021, approximately 72% of full-service restaurants offered some kind of outdoor dining. Though some eateries were (and still are) making use of sidewalk tables erected as part of the restaurant’s pandemic response, others offer more permanent outdoor options like a deck or patio.

While outdoor seating carries the obvious advantage of increasing your capacity, it’s also a useful tool for generating excitement around your space and your menu. Think about your patio as a visual display of your restaurant’s personality. You’re introducing your concept and your vibe to people who don’t have to be inside to see it.

Read on for our best tips on how to take advantage of the summer weather and how to entice your online diners to stop by in-person!

1. Decorate

How you decorate your restaurant affects everything from how long your customers will linger, and therefore how much they’ll spend on food and drinks, to how excited they are about dining with you after they scroll through your feed on Instagram. Lighting, paint colors, flower and plant usage — every element plays a role in determining how your restaurant will be viewed.

Your outdoor space should be a continuation of whatever vibe you’ve established inside. But don’t forget make room to incorporate certain restaurant design and décor trends that could help you refresh and augment your existing restaurant patio ideas.

2. Hire more staff

Ideally, you’ll work toward hiring additional staff to cover your new restaurant patio tables. But the reality is that the current staffing struggles affecting the hospitality industry mean it’s not as easy as it once was to bring on a few new servers and an extra bar back.

If hiring new faces isn’t an option, concentrate your efforts on keeping your existing employees happy. Work with your managers to emphasize crucial supervisory skills that help set a good example for others to follow. Supervisors who are consistent, upbeat, and adept at problem-solving can help make hurdles like labor shortages play out as positively as possible.

Prep your restaurant for busier days and the additional orders a patio can bring by choosing a strong POS system. The right software integration can alleviate pain points and bottlenecks in your restaurant’s day-to-day operations. 

Streamlining your existing workflow could lead to servers taking more tables, stretching the labor you have even further without sacrificing service standards or the well-being of your staff.

3. Create a seasonal menu

Picnics, cookouts, packed lunches for the park — we just eat differently when we dine outside. It just makes sense to create a seasonal menu you can launch alongside your new patio space.

These limited-edition menus can speak to the season but also honor local purveyors who often offer restaurant owners sweet deals on in-season produce. 

Consumers are already on board with the concept, too; Grubhub’s own survey data shows that strawberry lemonade freezers are a spring favorite (perfect for sipping in warmed weather) while hearty butternut squash soup is a winter favorite.

4. Decide on a pet policy

As of 2020, there were 17 states with laws on the books allowing dogs into the outdoor patio areas of restaurants. But even if you’re in one of those states, that doesn’t mean you automatically have to allow pets to accompany their owners as they dine. And even if you do allow it, you can apply your own guidelines as to how pet owners need to act while on premises.

There are definite pros and cons to being a dog-friendly restaurant. Allowing dogs could increase patronage from younger generations and boost sales. On the flip side, dogs can be disruptive and some customers view four-legged friends as being less than hygienic. Ultimately, the decision is yours, and you can always change your approach if you find your original policy isn’t working out quite as planned.

A quick note of caution: even if your state is on the approved list linked above, you may be subject to city or county regulations that further restrict the presence of pets in places where food and drinks are served. Check with your local governing bodies to better understand your limits and what, if any, additional licensing or permits you may need if you plan on welcoming Fido and Fluffy into the fold.

5. Designate an area for pickup and delivery

If your outdoor dining area abuts your restaurant’s entryway, you’ll need to make special arrangements to ensure diners and staff aren’t thrown off by the influx of pick-up orders that come with nicer weather.

Start by setting up an area dedicated for pickup orders, including those waiting to be snagged by a third-party delivery service. Then, optimize your floor plan so your in-house servers and on-premise diners won’t be inconvenienced by the additional foot traffic associated with delivery drivers and customers just coming by long enough to grab their takeout. The last thing you want to do is destroy the ambience of your patio by turning it into the equivalent of a six-lane highway.

For more help growing your takeout and delivery services in advance of summer months, check out Grubhub Marketplace. Our tools can help you easily set up your restaurant and menu to capture warm-weather sales, and with your first 30 days currently free of charge, you have a risk-free opportunity to see what kind of profits your restaurant is capable of.

Or join Grubhub Direct, with zero marketing fees and your very own branded online website that helps drive commission-free orders while giving you access to invaluable customer data.

6. Use national food holidays

Summer is a fun blend of “real” holidays like Cinco de Mayo, Father’s Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day, as well as social media holidays that are less official but no less fun. Tapping into these holidays can inspire promotional deals, social media posts, special menus, and more. 

Imagine drawing in new customers intrigued by the Cinco de Mayo deals you posted on Facebook or using National Iced Tea Day (June 10) to suggest guests kick back on your restaurant patio with a glass of chilled oolong.

To kickstart your brainstorming, download Grubhub’s Guide to National Food Holidays and see which special events resonate most with your theme and your team.

7. Prepare your summer marketing strategy

Your restaurant’s summer marketing strategy is your game plan outlining what you want to do in the coming months. Marketing is not something that should be done spontaneously. You’ll miss holidays, forget to promote events until it’s too late, and lose out on valuable opportunities.

Put together a calendar that includes some of the holidays mentioned above, then use Grubhub’s promotion and loyalty tools to maximize visibility and turn views into orders. We make it easy to not only connect with consumers but to keep them engaged, boosting loyalty and improving the chances that today’s diners will opt to come back all summer long.

For more help assembling your digital restaurant branding strategy, check out these affordable marketing tools.

What do you need for outdoor dining?

Sunshine? Check. Now all you need to launch outdoor dining is, well, everything else on this list!

Umbrellas: Always keep diners’ comfort top of mind. On your patio, that means providing umbrellas that can protect from the elements, sun and rain included.

Water-resistant QR code menus: Physical menus are already difficult to keep clean and table ready. Switching to digital menus, such as those accessible via a QR code displayed on your patio table, saves on menu represents while also allowing guests to browse their choices while they’re waiting on service staff to drop by.

Durable seating and chairs: What are those umbrellas attached to? Comfort extends to where your guests are going to sit and eat. Choose restaurant patio furniture designed to withstand bad weather and hold up to the wear and tear that comes with packing up the space each night at close. 

And for that matter, where will you be storing everything? If you can’t move your patio furniture to a secure location overnight, consider purchasing items that can be chained down outside or that’s simply too heavy to carry away.

Prepare for restaurant patio season with Grubhub

Patio season is just around the corner. How prepared are you to tackle the intricacies of outdoor dining? It all hinges on creating a plan that sets you and your team up for success. Grubhub can help.

Over 170,000 businesses just like yours have turned to Grubhub for help reaching new customers and generating more revenue. Sign up today and get instant access to some 33 million hungry diners looking to explore the culinary options in their area.

In addition to exposure, you’ll get:

  • Access to online ordering experts who can help you tweak operations for even better results
  • A professional photo shoot and menu consultation, completely free!
  • Tons of user-friendly marketing and promo tools
  • Growth opportunities exclusive to the Grubhub for Restaurants community

Join Grubhub today and see how you can use online ordering to reach new customers and grow your business. For more tips and insight into the restaurant industry, sign up for our newsletter using the form below.