Big Hospitality, a daily news site for the hospitality industry, found that 79% of people would increase their dwell time if table service was available alfresco. The longer people spend in your establishment, the more opportunity you have for to upsell high margin stock items, such as hot drinks, nibbles and desserts.
Their research also found 48% of people believe slow or poor service is the biggest draw back from eating outside. There are a number of operational difficulties associated with extending table service to an outside space, but these can be overcome with a little forward planning. If you make these considerations before the hoards of sun-seekers come knocking (with dogs and buggies in tow) you can maximise the summer’s profit potential!
You should view your outside space as an extension of your restaurant. This means operating by the same service standards as you would inside, which includes having enough staff on to man the extra tables. Stretching your serving team too thin is a mistake that affects the customer experience, risking losing them permanently. By ensuring you have enough team members on shift ensures customers are promptly served and clearing is kept on top of. First impressions count, so customers faced with tables piled with high with dirty plates and glassware are less inclined to take a seat.
A crucial element of memorable service is accuracy and speed. Hospitality businesses are increasingly using tablets and mPOS solutions to achieve this. Having the ability to take orders and payments at the table stops bottlenecks in service. Traditional choke points include staff queuing to input handwritten orders at the terminal and customers waiting to pay. Implementing mPOS into your business eradicates this stages of the journey, allowing for an efficient and accurate service.
Consider having a mobile workstation that can be wheeled out in good weather. This needs to contain all the necessary paraphernalia required to turn tables around quickly and efficiently. Cruets, sauces, cutlery, napkins, menus and cleaning products all need to be easily accessible to staff but neatly hidden from the view of the customer. These items are essential to the smooth running of your outdoor operation just as they are inside and therefore shouldn't be an afterthought.
Welcome one, welcome all
Outside dining offers fewer restrictions than its internal counterpart, making it more inclusive of people such as dog owners. Places that allow dogs on site are readily welcomed and earn valuable custom from people wanting to enjoy a meal out without leaving man’s best friend at home. There are a number of websites such as Dog Friendly Britain that celebrates, promotes and advertises businesses that allow dogs on the premises. You can register your business for free or add a cheap ad that has direct links to your website. The Good Dog Guide cites over 2 million dog owners using their services. This is a good way to get new custom with minimal effort, just offer water bowl facilities to pet owners.
Families are another valuable group of customers who are faithful once they find an establishment that meets their needs. Assuming you are happy to welcome them, how do you demonstrate your family-friendly status? Having a dedicated kids menu is a clear invitation to families with young children. This could include smaller portions of the mains you offer as well as old favourites such as chicken nuggets and chips. Playground equipment also signals your family-friendly credentials, but this can be expensive and can take up a lot of space. Garden games such as giant Jenga, or having a toy box with balls and frisbees is a cheaper alternative. Don’t forget that young families often have a lot of baggage, so spacing furniture with enough room to manoeuvre heavily laden prams will ensure easy access for all.
2007’s smoking ban dictates smokers are the most maligned of your customer groups with the outdoor space their domain all year round! However, smoking and dining are not good companions and cause issues for other guests, especially those with young children. Having a separate area for smokers is essential to keeping all guests happy. Cigarette butts are also an unwelcome addition so ensure you have ash trays available on tables to avoid littering, ensuring you empty them regularly to avoid unpleasant smells.
Just like designing your restaurant, creating a pleasant and welcoming atmosphere is key to ensuring your guest have great dining experience they want to repeat. Many outdoor spaces will have been neglected over the winter, so a spruce up may be necessary. Maintaining outdoor furniture has its own set of problems. Get staff to wipe down tables and chairs at the start of every shift to ensure the dining areas are clean. This is a simple task many establishments overlook that directly affects the customer experience.
Small touches can make a big difference when it comes to decoration. Planting flower beds, pots or hanging baskets can help brighten up the place. If you have centrepieces on you indoor tables, how about dressing the tables in the same way outside? This helps create the sense you are extending your restaurant, rather than having two distinct and separate spaces. Add further splashes of colour and comfort through the addition of cushions and blankets. This will also help extend the usage of your outside space as evenings get colder, as will the use of fire pits space heaters and parasols.
Outside space is highly coveted for pubs, bars and restaurants, especially in high-density population areas where many have limited garden space. Be sure to promote your outdoor offering to get a lead over the competition. Simple signage directing customers to your premises is a useful prompt, especially if your garden area is hidden from view or not immediately obvious from street level. Don’t forget to advertise on social media with lots of enticing imagery of your outside space. Pictures and promotions that lend themselves to alfresco dining, such as summery salads, pitchers of Pimms or thirst quenching fruit coolers are a good way to entice customers into your business.
The British summer is famed for its lacklustre nature, but when it defies convention and the sun does come out, everyone is clamouring to get outdoors. Utilising available outdoor space acts as an extension of your restaurant, allowing you to sit more covers, turn over more tables and ultimately make more money. Thinking about who will use the space and optimising it accordingly ensures you can get the most out of your alfresco offering.