It’s an understatement to say local, independent restaurants have been challenged — repeatedly — over the last few years. From lockdowns to limited capacity, shuttered indoor dining and customers’ hesitancy to enjoy meals in enclosed spaces, restaurants have had to pivot, often. As a result, having outdoor dining has become essential to running a successful restaurant. That’s as true in cold weather climates as it is in balmier locales.
So how can an establishment with fewer resources, never mind limited staff, stay ahead of the curve? By not just offering — but also embracing — outdoor dining as a way of life. By thinking like the Norwegians, who embrace the concept of friluftsliv (free-loofts-liv), “open-air living,” whatever the weather.
In addition to being a cold weather coping strategy, it’s also an opportunity for restaurant operators to capitalize not just on patios, but also parking lots and other parcels of land that can expand capacity and create fresh-air alternatives for those wishing to dine outdoors.
Yes, the country has opened up. However, dining outdoors has become a way of life, one that is undoubtedly here to stay in some way, shape or form. As such, many cities have followed suit, changing ordinances to accommodate sidewalk and newly allotted streetscapes for extended periods of time — including during more inclement weather.
At the end of the day, it’s about getting creative. Some establishments have introduced domes for wining and dining. Take Solemn Oath brewery in suburban Chicago as an example. Its community dome forest — set up in the parking lot of an industrial area — creates an immersive environment complete with firepits, portable heaters and food trucks to complement the venue’s BYO dining experience. Reservations can be hard to come by two years in.
Others have introduced patio heaters, or created entirely immersive experiences around the idea, introducing dining greenhouses, rooftop patios and heated sidewalk seating
Notes Andrew Rigie, executive director of the membership-based, non-profit association NYC Hospitality Alliance — which advocates for, represents and supports New York City’s restaurant and nightlife industries — “Outdoor dining was critically important throughout the pandemic, and it has become an essential part of business operations and the New York City streetscape.”
Eater notes the appetite remains, too, at least among the food cognisati. Adding further momentum, the National Restaurant Association’s 2021 State of the Restaurant Industry report saw 70 percent of consumers reporting they’d likely take a table outside, provided the conditions were right.
Okay, so — ordinances aside — how does one pull this off? Above all, restaurant owners can leverage a comprehensive, data-driven POS system to optimize their outdoor dining operations, never differentiating where — or how — that food is served.
Customer data that’s gathered from your POS system has the power to create tailored, efficient floor plans that allow restaurateurs to maximize outdoor space; streamline front- and back-of-house processes; improve efficiency; and sync outdoor dining to indoor operations. When there’s quicker, more efficient service, you foster happier employees, which in turn creates satisfied customers and bolstered ROI.
Additionally, POS insights can help identify your restaurant’s top-selling dishes based on customer data, and then prioritize them on your menu. Owners even review sales trends from years past, noting which items got the most attention among those dining outdoors each season so they can be pushed. It’s also possible to tailor and promote offerings or create integrated loyalty programs and mobile apps to generate interest among customers.
While no one is saying it’s easy, or that it’s not another layer to manage, but outdoor seating can also be a lifeline at a time when the restaurant industry is still attempting to get its footing and recover from the pandemic.
Want to learn how Table Needs POS, online ordering and menu management can help simplify and synthesize your outdoor dining efforts? Let’s talk. And be sure to check out our blog for additional ideas on how to make restaurant technology tools help you do more with less.
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