It’s an attraction that has driven cities such as Miami, San Francisco and now Chicago to license “curbside cafes”—where street-front parking is overtaken by restaurant seating for the summer. Expanding a patio as far as and even onto the street makes sense. According to research from hospitality consultant group Vucurevich and Simons, an initial investment of $200,000 in outdoor-dining space could result in $500,000 in sales.
To establish outdoor seating, especially in-street spots, requires up-front and added costs: more labor, furnishings, outdoor-license fees, reimbursing metered parking and more. But with strategic management, the end result can mean serious profits.
It’s not as easy as just setting up tables outside. Guests’ expectations have changed in recent years, says Rob Goldberg, executive vice president of restaurants for Tommy Bahama. “People expect your patio to be every bit as good as your dining room. And maybe better,” he says.
It’s a shift that has the Bar Louie home office specifically requiring patio and bar integration with the interior when researching new locations. “Otherwise, [the property] is of no interest to us,” says Chris Devlin, senior vice president of new business development.
Now, 20 percent of Bar Louie’s locations put the bar adjacent to the patio. It uses rollup doors to create a “transterior” space and attention-grabbers such as a fire pit to draw in outdoor diners. “We’re not going to push people onto a patio where they’re not part of what’s going on inside.” Here’s more of what these operators do to make patios work.
Keep lines in mind
Goldberg suggests operators plumb in gas lines for outdoor heating at the flip of a switch. It eliminates unsightly heaters and emergency trips to the store for propane, which add up over time. Running water to the outdoor bar for a glass-washing station will help keep staff where they’re needed—behind the bar.
More to consider
- Have rain kits—buckets with squeegees and towels—ready to mop up after showers.
- To prevent pests, Tommy Bahama in Palm Desert, Calif., placed wooden falcons on high perches to keep pigeons at bay.
- Capitalize on more relaxed dog laws. California and New York City both passed regulations last year allowing dogs on patios. The Crack Shack in San Diego turned it into a marketing win, asking patrons to use its #dogsofcrackshack Instagram tag.