As the temperature rises, diners start looking for ways to enjoy their meals in the sunshine. If your restaurant doesn’t have an outdoor dining area, now’s the time to build one — a patio helps you adapt to warmer weather and increase profitability during one of the busiest times of the year. With the right restaurant patio ideas, you can transform any space into a beautiful, breezy retreat.
How can a patio benefit my restaurant?
Customers love al fresco dining — it’s a chance to enjoy the fresh air and make the most of warm weather. This is particularly true for people with kids; outside, parents don’t need to worry as much about keeping the little ones quiet. A patio is a great way to attract these sun-seeking diners, all while continuing to serve people who prefer to eat inside.
On a practical level, patios expand your restaurant’s seating capacity and enable you to serve more diners. If your city sees an increase in foot traffic during the summer months, this is an effective way to reduce wait time and increase revenue. In fact, research shows that an outdoor patio can increase gross profits by up to 65%.
A patio can also help you keep up with competitors. In a 2023 National Restaurant Association survey, 90% of restaurant owners with outdoor dining are planning to keep it. That’s because customers are demanding it; about 82% of diners would like to see growth in outdoor seating options, and 75% of adults feel safer when dining out.
When your patio is attractive and visible from the street, it serves as an advertisement for your restaurant. Add live music and a special seasonal menu to intensify the impact — the festive atmosphere draws in new patrons and encourages them to stay for after-dinner drinks.
10 tips for making the most of patio season
Whether you have a small dining area next to the street or a rooftop patio with breathtaking views, there are a few things you can do to get the most from your outdoor space.
1. Check local laws and regulations
If your restaurant doesn’t already have a dedicated outdoor dining space, check state and local laws before construction starts. Many areas regulate factors such as patio capacity, location, enclosure, signage and proximity to the restaurant. You’ll likely need to get special permits, especially if you’re planning to build an outdoor bar or other new structures.
That’s not all — local laws will also affect your patio’s smoking policy and your ability to serve alcohol outdoors. If you’re thinking about hosting live music, check the local noise ordinances. Finally, look into laws and regulations regarding pet policies at restaurants; certain states allow it, but you may need to establish rules regarding leashes, hand-washing and waste management.
2. Deck out your patio with the latest decor
The look and feel of your patio has a direct impact on the customer experience. Ideally, your outdoor space should feel like an extension of the indoor dining room but with a slightly more casual vibe. If your restaurant has a romantic atmosphere, for example, you might recreate the effect outside with hurricane candles and white string lights.
As you consider restaurant patio ideas, look for ways to incorporate the latest restaurant decor trends:
- Comfortable mix-and-match outdoor furniture
- Bold lettering and murals
- Photogenic backgrounds for social media
- Warm, comforting tones
- Lush greenery
3. Keep your furniture flexible
Maximize patio space with lightweight, stackable patio furniture. When employees can move tables and chairs easily, they can adjust the seating to accommodate large groups, private events or live music.
Of course, comfort should also be a top priority. Avoid patio chairs that are too delicate; small, hard seats or flimsy frames can be uncomfortable for guests. Instead, look for wide, deep seats that work for a range of body sizes and table styles that hold food easily.
4. Establish ambiance with decorative lighting
Lighting sets the mood; it’s a critical aspect of restaurant patio design. Choose lights that match your restaurant’s aesthetics and atmosphere. Options include:
- Wall sconces
- String lights
- LED strip lights
- Hanging lanterns or pendants
- Globe lights in planters
- Landscape spotlights
- Tiki torches
Aim to fill the space with lighting that isn’t too bright or too dark — while sitting in their chairs, guests should be able to read the menus clearly.
5. Embrace your greenery
Plants are a perfect fit for an outdoor dining area; greenery enhances the natural vibe of the patio and brings life to an urban space. You can also use plants to beautify the commercial patio enclosure, create private dining areas, or conceal fixtures unsightly. Some plants can even repel mosquitoes, which creates a better patio dining experience.
When choosing greenery, consider the required upkeep. Sturdy, low-maintenance plants can stand up to heavy traffic and reduce the workload for your staff.
6. Prepare for inclement weather
Get more use from your patio by preparing the space for different weather conditions. Large patio umbrellas or sun sails provide shade on hot days and light rain protection when it’s drizzling. If space allows, you can also create shade and ambiance with a pergola covered in climbing vines.
To encourage guests to dine outdoors regardless of the weather, invest in temperature-control devices. Roofline fans can create ample airflow, and standing outdoor heaters add just the right amount of warmth on cool, crisp fall days.
7. Designate an area for pickup and delivery
Is your outdoor dining area located near the restaurant’s main entrance? You may need to establish a separate pickup point — especially if you’re listed on a service like Grubhub Marketplace. By distancing the to-go area from regular restaurant traffic, it’s easier to ensure diners and staff aren’t affected by the influx of pickup orders that come with nicer weather.
8. Create a seasonal menu
A seasonal menu refreshes the dining experience, giving loyal patrons a reason to drop in. It can also set the tone for your patio. If you’re going for a classic summer vibe, you can keep it traditional with burgers, corn dogs, and fried chicken. For a lighter, modern-bistro approach, try creative salads, shareable charcuterie boards, or gourmet nachos. Make sure to put your new menu items into the POS system before the patio space opens for easy ordering.
Don’t forget to update your alcohol menu — delicious, summery drinks are perfect for happy hour or afternoon cocktails. Consider options such as craft beer, sparkling wine, margaritas, and fruit-based mixed drinks.
9. Promote your patio on social media
Your patio should be the star of your summer social media marketing plan. After all, there’s no better marketing tool than a lively, vibrant outdoor space. Show patrons what they can expect with beautiful sunset photos, short clips of live music, or shots of people enjoying Sunday brunch in the sunshine.
Showcase your seasonal menu on social media, too. Post photos of new menu items, or plan your posts to coincide with the latest food trends or food holidays.
10. Hire seasonal staff
Additional seating capacity can increase your business; it also means that you’ll need to hire more staff. Bringing on a few extra servers, bussers and kitchen crew members can prevent your full-time employees from getting stretched too thin. An adequate team can deliver fast, friendly service and maintain a top-notch dining experience for guests dining indoors or in the patio space.
Prepare for patio season with Grubhub
Patio season is an opportunity to bring in first-time diners and build loyalty among existing patrons — and increase profits in the process. Grubhub can help your restaurant reach new customers and showcase your new outdoor dining experience. To start boosting your visibility, join Grubhub today.