Patio season is around the corner, and you can feel the optimism in the air. The weather is turning, and there finally seems to be a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.
With the combination of springtime weather and a pandemic that’s not-quite-over-yet, restaurant owners and operators should be prepared to serve an increased number of diners who are opting to eat outdoors.
Where should you start? Here are some suggestions.
Think about your goals and what you’d like to achieve, while considering the realities of the space you’re working with. Could you expand the footprint of your patio? Is an overhang possible? Can you add outdoor furniture on the sidewalk? What about a firepit? Think through your clientele’s needs, your operational capabilities, and the direction you want your business to go in.
Do some research as well. Talk to other restaurant owners and read success stories from the past year – there are plenty. What has worked? What hasn’t? There are so many examples of both individually owned restaurants and chains that have been wildly successful through the pandemic because of the quick pivoting they have done. Learn from them.
You’ll want to start by speaking with your landlord to evaluate your options. Any work you’re considering would likely improve the property, and your landlord might be willing to work with you on a “TI” (tenant improvement) allowance. Start the conversation with a “win-win” in mind and think about what you can offer. For example, would you be willing to extend the term of your lease in return for a TI allowance? If not, what can you bring to the table?
Next, reach out to your municipality to learn about your outdoor dining options. Some municipalities are allowing outdoor dining to extend into the street, sidewalk or parking lot as a show of support for restaurants and a benefit to the community in the wake of the pandemic. Contact your city to find out what unique solutions might be available and be sure to ask how long those provisions might be in place. If the sidewalk patio is only allowed for 12 months, for example, you might not want to invest heavily.
Bring in the Experts
Once you have an idea of what you’d like to achieve, it’s time to start outlining your vision. Bring in an architect and a general contractor that can help not only visualize the plan but discuss the reality of bringing your ideas to life.
Ask your architect to pay special attention to the flow of the space, considering how food and drinks will get from the kitchen or bar to your guests. The flow will make a big difference in your operations, and limiting the number of steps your employees need to take will increase efficiencies. If you have the space, try to have one-way pathways to further help the flow of foot traffic.
Involve a general contractor with an expertise in restaurants. The GC can provide ideas for your space along with potential costs at the outset, while bringing suggestions that have worked well for other restaurant clients.
Your outdoor dining area might need a quick refresh, or you might need to do more significant work to increase capacity. It could be as simple as expanding the patio and installing an overhang, or you might want to build out a patio from scratch with walkways, bollards and more. Talk to your general contractor about how much work (i.e. time + money) it will take to get from where you are to where you want to be.
Potential water issues should be top of mind when thinking through your new outdoor dining options. You will need to plan for possible water problems as part of the permitting process with your municipality, and you want to do everything you can to avoid water issues on your property. The way water will flow across your property will be part of the discussion and your general contractor will help provide options to prevent any problems down the road.
When your general contractor is on board early, you can determine your costs and timing and get the permitting process started. Material prices have risen across the board and many materials are on delay due to the pandemic. Your GC will be able to walk you through the latest information, and offer ideas on different and/or more cost-efficient materials so you can adjust plans as needed.
Flexibility has been the name of the game since Covid began. Our restaurant clients have had to pivot multiple times during the past year, and this final chapter of the pandemic will be no exception. As cities and counties are beginning to open back up there is no guarantee that they won’t be shut down again. The situation is evolving and additional change should expected.
Build flexibility into your plan and consider features such as a walk-up window, new signage, dedicated parking spaces for curbside pickup and more. You might also consider modular furniture to allow for flexible seating, or even taller booths to separate groups of customers.
Consider adding a roof structure or pergola to your open outdoor space for weather protection, while leaving the space open to meet your city’s requirements. While most municipalities are permitting outdoor dining, many have a contingency that a certain percentage of open air must be flowing around the seats, discouraging use of closed tents to allow for more circulation.
Increase Your Number of Patio Days
With the right amount of planning, you can bump up the number of ‘patio days’ where you’re serving outdoors, increasing your revenue. If you’d like us to do a walkthrough of your space to help determine feasibility, please reach out.