As foodservice continues to evolve, one demand remains consistent with nice weather: outdoor dining. For many restaurants, the outdoor dining season can double, even triple, the amount of dining space offered to customers. While it is an enticing feature for both restaurant staff and customers, offering a good outdoor dining experience requires careful planning, adjustments to staff and the ability to quickly correct when obstacles arise. Here are three outdoor dining tips to enhance the customer experience.
1. Prioritize Safety
Although outdoor dining is removed from the literal restaurant, it is still an extension of your business and requires the same level of attention to safety. The outdoors can provide a host of new challenges such as:
- Weather conditions: Do you have an overhang to protect customers from rain? Do you have a rapid move-in plan should inclimate weather suddenly appear? Is your patio properly maintained to account for precipitation?
- Electrical equipment: Are your POS systems and lighting fixtures built to withstand outdoor conditions? Are all potential electrical contact areas properly protected?
- Compliance: Are your outdoor dining layout, exits and entrances designed with disabled and the elderly in mind? Is your layout ADA compliant?
Keeping customers safe on your patio comes down to what is within your restaurant’s control, and that means reinforcing safety measures among your employees. Safety is not a box to check but a matter of maintenance. A patio can turn into a danger zone due to spillage, leftover rain, misplaced objects and more.
2. Match Your System to the Space & Capacity
Designing an exceptional outdoor dining environment goes well beyond aesthetic elements, requiring proper attention to detail in regards to the flow of service and the overall customer experience. Whether creating a brand new outdoor space or looking to upgrade your current one, it advisable to plan the layout with both customers and employees in mind.
A proper outdoor dining system should allow for an unobtrusive dining experience as well as enable your employees to provide the best possible service to outdoor patrons. Considerations for creating and implementing an outdoor dining system include:
- Entrances and exits: Patrons should be able to transition from arriving to waiting to dining to departing smoothly. Is your patio self-seat? If not, is it clear through signage and available hosting? Is there a designated waiting area? Can an outdoor customer leave, whether to depart or visit the restroom, in a self-explanatory manner that does not interfere with guests or staff?
- Equipment placement: If your establishment staff includes servers, do they have the equipment placed in a way that sets them up for optimal service delivery? If a POS or server station is available outside, is it in the way? Are any designated outdoor locations for money storage properly protected from theft?
- Kitchen & food management: Is your kitchen prepared to handle the influx of more customer orders at one time given the extended customer accommodations? Whether its extra staff or kitchen modifications, make sure to address this change in order demand. Sometimes pushing more easily prepared items through sales or limited menus can also account for this.
- When it comes to delivering the food, are there proper routes and staff in place to get outdoor customers hot food in a safe manner?
- Cleaning and bussing: Garbage containers and stations for any dishes or cutlery should be strategically placed in a way that doesn’t encroach on customers’ space yet allows for a quick and proper turnover of clean dining areas.
- Providing comfort: In addition to having comfortable furniture that adheres to the elements, are your outdoor patrons spaced out in a way that offers as much privacy as possible and room to enjoy themselves? Keep in mind things like shade, wind and other outdoor factors that may cause discomfort.
3. Review & Adjust for Next Year
A restaurant’s success depends on its volume, and while outdoor dining will significantly increase that volume, it’s important to prepare for the stressors that may come along with it. Like any facet of food and customer service, unforeseen issues can arise outside of your control, so it’s important to monitor not only your customers’ experiences, but those of your staff. There is always room for improvement within any system, and an outdoor dining process, especially if tied to seasonality, will have its share of areas to increase efficiency and solve problems.
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