2 Key Ways to Maximize Your Investment in Outdoor Dining

With guests forced to change their ordering habits during the pandemic, restaurants need to find ways to remind them that going out to eat can be a fun and safe experience once again. Consumers across all age groups, after all, are preparing more meals at home than last year. In Technomic’s latest Consumer Food Trends survey, 63% of all respondents, from Baby Boomers to Generation Z, said they are making more food at home due to COVID-19. Perhaps more surprisingly, 18% of respondents said they are not ordering takeout, delivery, or dine-in food at all.

Since reopening, more restaurants are getting creative with outdoor dining to not only address the concerns of their guests but offer unique experiences. Here are 2 ways you can maximize your return on investing in the extra equipment and furniture needed to make that happen:

Follow the Sun

Steve Starr, a leader in restaurant and retail design, said that patio direction is important to ensure guests’ comfort when dining outdoors. He recommends putting some form of shade over your outdoor space if it faces south, describing in Fast Casual that any restaurant in the Northern Hemisphere has to contend with the sun rising in the southeast and setting in the southwest. North-facing patios should avoid shades like umbrellas or roof awnings to ensure they are getting as much sunlight as possible. To avoid shadows during the day, you could consider making the top part of dividers see-through with Plexiglas or going with fully transparent partitions.

Many cities like Denver have issued more temporary patio permits than ever before, leading to crowded outdoor spaces that make it more difficult to control the amount of sunlight each table receives while keeping guests socially distant. If your outdoor space is by a tall building, having a tent with wicker lights hanging over tables will ensure guests’ surroundings are well-lit at night and during times of the day when shadows leave the area too dark to read menus.

Investing in heaters for when the sun goes down will allow you to extend your outdoor hours and lengthen the outdoor eating season even more. If you have a patio, you can place freestanding heaters between tables along with partitions to ensure proper social distancing. Choosing plastic or wicker furniture can provide additional temperature control over metal, since it can better insulate heat on cold nights and does not get hot to the touch on warm, sunny days.

Make Design Changes to Create Memorable Moments

Outdoor dining domes take the post-pandemic experience a step further, allowing guests to eat outdoors even on cold days thanks to heaters that go directly in the protected spaces along with a table and chairs. Café Benelux in Wisconsin has invested in this idea so they can entertain guests year-round, renting out six domes that seat up to eight people in 90 minute time frames to ensure enough turnover. The establishment even created personalized menus along with a fun name for the idea – “Lux Domes” – and gives each guest a free mug to take home to add to the party-like experience.

You can even make partitions into buzz-generating selfie walls, adding hashtags or designs that will encourage your guests to take a picture and post it to Instagram. Use whiteboards or chalkboards to encourage guests to write their own messages and sign their names or get local artists to create selfie-worthy backgrounds on the partitions like scenes of nature.

At the end of the day, it is what people remember that counts – emphasizing the importance of leaving a good first impression on guests embarking on their first post-pandemic night out. To read more about the steps others are taking in this new environment, check out our post on creative ways restaurants are keeping guests socially distant.