Due to COVID-19, the majority of states implemented capacity regulations that foodservice establishments must follow in order to operate. Restaurants got creative and designed outdoor dining areas to keep everyone safe while increasing their occupancy limits and revenue. However, with winter quickly approaching, how can operators continue to offer on-premise outdoor dining in cold weather? In this comprehensive guide, we provide you with a number of winter outdoor dining solutions to ensure your guests have a comfortable and memorable dining experience.
Update Your Menu
Your restaurant may be known for its lemonade, house salad, or ice cream. However, the majority of individuals dining outdoors during winter are looking to enjoy dishes and beverages that will keep them warm. Updating your menu to include items that stay warmer for longer guarantees that your customers’ first bite or sip is as warm as their last. Below is a list of food and drinks you can add to your menu to ensure guests stay warm on a chilly evening:
- Slow-cooked meat
- Hot chocolate
- Hot toddy
- Hot buttered rum
Set Up Dining Igloos
Dining igloos are designed for individual parties to enjoy meals outdoors during winter. These dining bubbles have a clear finish which allows customers to view the sunset, lights, or decorations at your foodservice establishment. They are also available in a variety of sizes, allowing you to provide a couple with an intimate evening or a party of 10 with a private dining experience. Setting up restaurant igloos in your outdoor dining area provides more room for customers which allows you to expand your seating capacity.
Outdoor dining guidelines vary by city so operates should review their local regulations before installing restaurant igloos in their outdoor dining area. For instance, many locations require igloos to have adequate ventilation to allow for air circulation. Depending on the size of the bubble and if your operation is on private or public property, you may also need to have a permit in order to seat guests inside a dome.
Winds tend to be stronger during winter which makes it essential for restaurateurs to find ways to prevent the wind from getting patrons cold and blowing centerpieces away. Putting greenery throughout your restaurant’s patio serves as a shield from the wind and encourages social distancing. Greenery also brings an elegant and visual element that enhances the ambiance of your operation.
Bring The Heat
It’s likely that customers aren’t going to spend much time at your foodservice establishment if they are cold. They may decide to quickly enjoy their meals and leave or place an order to go instead of dining at your restaurant. To ensure that guests feel comfortable in your restaurant’s patio, there are a few ways you can keep it warm this winter:
- Fireplace: If you have a small outdoor dining area, you can set up a fireplace in the middle of the patio to keep everyone warm. Fireplaces also provide guests with a comforting feeling while bringing a rustic flair to your outdoor area.
- Freestanding heater: These heaters provide you with flexibility because they can be conveniently moved throughout your business. They can be placed wherever you’d like and are designed to heat up a certain radius of your patio.
- Ceiling or wall-mounted heater: These are designed to provide consistent heat in a specific area. They can be mounted on walls or ceilings which prevents them from taking floor space.
When setting up propane heaters, gas heaters, or fire pits, it’s important to keep them away from materials that can easily catch fire. Consider keeping a fire extinguisher nearby in case of an emergency. Additionally, every city has its unique set of regulations that foodservice establishments must follow when using patio heaters. Check your local guidelines before making purchasing a gas or electric heater to ensure it meets city standards.
Replace Outdoor Furniture
Metal is an excellent thermal conductor which is why it feels cold when you touch it on a chilly day. Your customer will not want to sit on a chair or put their hands on a table that’s cold. Regardless of how good the food is, they will not enjoy their dining experience and likely not return to your foodservice establishment. To ensure guests feel comfortable dining in the cold, replace your outdoor furniture with chairs and tables constructed from wood, plastic, wicker, and other materials that are poor thermal conductors.
On a chilly night, the majority of individuals enjoy bundling up in a cozy blanket to stay warm. Offering customers a blanket increases their comfort level and makes them feel safe dining at your foodservice establishment. Although it may seem like a simple gesture, you’re proving to customers that you’re doing everything to keep them warm and hospitality is your top priority.
Blankets also allow you to create an alluring ambiance. The style and color of the blanket can complement the artwork on the wall, centerpieces, or the theme of your restaurant. Blankets allow you to set the mood and character of your business while providing customers with a one-of-a-kind dining experience.
The holidays are quickly approaching and your customers need something to cheer about more than ever. There are a couple of ways you can create an inviting atmosphere and get patrons in the holiday spirit.
Set Up Lights
Having lights in your winter outdoor dining area allows customers to read the menu with ease and comfortably enjoy their meals. It also gives your restaurant’s outdoor space a lively and magical look for evening dinners. You can string lights around your building, in trees, in shrubs, along with umbrella stands, and anywhere else that complements the design of your outdoor area. Before purchasing or setting up lights in your foodservice establishment’s patio, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I want incandescent or LED lights?
- How many strands will it take to cover my restaurant?
- What size and shape best fit the design pattern of my outdoor dining area?
- What combination of colors looks festive and complements my restaurant’s outdoor patio?
Holiday decorations create an alluring atmosphere and customers will appreciate the fine details you put into decorating your outdoor dining area. The decorations that you place throughout your patio should complement the design of your operation. For instance, if the theme of your restaurant is rustic, consider using tan or brown holiday decorations. You should also consider using winter decorations that are non-denominational to please all of your customers.
Keep Your Outdoor Dining Area Open
Instead of shutting down your on-premise outdoor dining operation this winter, keep it open so your business can continue to generate additional revenue with occupancy regulations in place. You can install heaters, set up dining igloos, or offer customers blankets to ensure customers are warm and comfortable when dining on your restaurant’s patio. And don’t forget to add a festive look to your winter outdoor dining area to create an inviting atmosphere.