As the weather cools, you’re likely to experience a shift in guest preferences and expectations when it comes to your available seating, both indoors and out. While many of your guests may have put the pandemic behind them and are happy to eat inside, others may be looking to avoid mixing with others indoors and expecting your outdoor seating area to be open. Now is a good time to give your cool-weather plan a review so you can readily tell guests in advance (on your website, reservations platform, phone line and other places where you provide information about your restaurant) whether your outdoor seating area is open, as well as share any adaptations you have made to make the area more comfortable in chilly weather. After all, in an era of abundant plexiglass and dining bubbles, outdoor dining in cool weather can look very different across restaurants. While you’re at it, consider the comfort and safety of your outdoor furniture – including replacing aluminum chairs that are icy to the touch or using blankets to warm them up, covering or securely storing outdoor furniture overnight to protect it against inclement weather, and clearing away leaves, twigs and other debris that may collect on your walkways and cause a tripping hazard.
Seemingly all restaurant operators have had to adjust how they operate during the course of the pandemic, whether by enabling curbside pickup, designing delivery-friendly menus, redesigning a strip of sidewalk to accommodate tables in any weather, or otherwise. But even as we ease back into more normal conditions, it will likely benefit you to retain many of the changes you have made. For one, make your outdoor dining areas usable year-round with the help of solid structures, sturdy weather-resistant canopies, heat lamps and even those dining bubbles used widely last winter. This is simply about scrutinizing your entire real estate footprint so you are making money from each square foot. Along those lines, try flexing your space to better accommodate carryout and delivery orders during lunch, or offering promotions to remote workers looking for a temporary workspace or snack break during your quiet periods. Your takeout menu is another area that needs to hold strong with foods that travel well, coordinated cocktails and special touches like notes or candies included in the bag. Continue to seek out technology that will help you streamline ordering and payment, minimize lines and turn tables faster. Finally, maintain your efforts to show your commitment to cleanliness. Hand sanitizers should be ready for guests as they walk in your doors – and asking guests to sanitize their hands before they sit can help you show them you care about safety.