The second the thermometer begins to peek above 60 degrees, your guests will undoubtedly start hounding you for al fresco dining. Maybe it’s the views. Maybe it’s the breeze. Maybe it’s the ability to hold a conversation. No matter why your guests want to get away from the brick & mortar, outdoor dining provides an avenue to increase your seating capacity and boost your revenue in warmer months.
We’ll give you a few twists on summertime standards to give your menu a fresh look on the bar, but we also want to focus on abstract. Between music, décor, and product presentation, there are so many ways to customize your restaurant’s outdoor seating to make it feel like a whole new world without completely departing from the personality of your indoor space.
Kick Out the Jams
The perfect summer playlist is a living, breathing organism. If you pick 200 or so songs in May and set them on shuffle for the next four months, you’re likely to have a rebellion on your hands the 57th time your staff hears Three Little Birds. You want a nice mix of classic and modern, and you should be constantly updating your tunes to get the newest summer hits flowing through your speakers.
Of course, your tunes depends on your restaurant’s theme and brand.
It’s important to know your clientele, your location, and overall ambience when selecting songs. If you’re going for a country barbecue feel, lean heavier on country and southern rock. If you’re aiming for a hipster chill vibe, maybe more Lana Del Rey and Phantogram. Never steer fully into one direction, though; make sure you have some Prince, Beatles, and Tom Petty to sprinkle in that nostalgia.
The only thing better than eating outdoors during the day is doing it at night. Firepits, heated awnings, and even blankets with your branding embroidered on them can keep your restaurant’s guests comfy and cozy when the sun goes down. Local ordinances vary by city, so you’ll want to check with your licensing authority before bringing in any major heating elements. It should also go without saying that when fire is involved, your servers and bartenders need to be hypervigilant about overserving your guests. Nothing kills your carefully cultivated ambience faster than self-immolation.
When you find yourself immersed -- or at the very least exposed to nature -- you can’t help but feel a yearning to preserve it. Push that narrative with more eco-friendly drinkware and dishes. You should be working towards total elimination of plastics where possible -- yes, including straws. There are many green options such as paper, bamboo, or, the most cost-efficient of all, no straws.
The recent resurgence of the Moscow Mule’s popularity has led to more establishments utilizing copper mugs, and their ageless cool is immeasurable. You can take it a step further by incorporating even more metal drinkware. Stainless steel and copper are significantly less fragile than glass and they look pretty damn cool, too. When incorporated with wooden elements, the metal drinkware creates a modern industrial look that also brings sustainability to mind.
What Makes Your “Outdoor” Drinks Unique?
There are certain drinks that just taste better outdoors – namely margaritas, rosés, and frozen boozy cocktails. The trick, however, is setting yours apart when every other patio bar is cranking out those same drinks. What’s your gimmick? What makes your drinks unique? Often the best solution is to take risks with your flavor combinations, textures, or methods. When a potential guest peruses your drink menu, give them a reason to stop with intrigue.
Nobody is giving the following description a second read: “Margarita: Don Julio blanco, triple sec, lime.” The average drinker can already taste it before the end of the ingredient list. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it feels too safe for outside. Use mezcal. Make an in-house smoked poblano liquer. Puree fresh fruit. Rim the glass with a spice blend they’ve never heard of before. Make your guests say “Wait, what?” when they see what YOUR margarita has in it.
Rosé all day, right? With a few tweaks -- some simple, some not -- the answer can definitely be yes. Again, a little something new will always give your guests a reason to pause and contemplate. Many winemakers are hopping on the fruit wagon and infusing their rosés with more bold flavors. Rosé generally has such a mild flavor that it makes the perfect canvas to splash a bit of color onto. Grapefruit and blood orange-flavored wines have slowly crept into the market and make perfect summertime sippers. Adding one or two of these varietals to your wine list is sure to make an impact.
Now if you really want to make a lasting impression, the name of the game is Frosé. Before your bartenders start groaning about having a blender in their workspace and the figurative and literal headaches that accompany it, there are dedicated frozen drink machines that allow you to simply make a batch and serve. These machines may set you back a pretty penny, but you may also be able to find a vendor willing to split the bill with you to make sure their product is the one you pour. A big batch of frozen rosé with strawberries and simple syrup may actually prove about as labor-intensive for your staff as pouring a draft beer. It is a surefire smash on hot days and will likely earn you some Insta-praise.
The overall goal of your patio space should be to inspire a one-ness with the environment around your guests. Make them feel they’re picnicking in the park or lounging in their own backyard. Keeping things fresh, green, and vibrant both in attitude and product will make your space feel like a second home for your guests all summer long.