Did you know that adding outdoor dining space to your coffee shop can increase your profits by as much as 65%?
With numbers like these, it may be time to pick up a few café tables and invite customers to sip and dine on your sidewalk—or even build a patio or deck if you have the space.
Of course, lots of eateries have outdoor seating, so you’ll need to make yours stand out:
First, get your sidewalk café permit
Cities require businesses to obtain a permit to use sidewalk space. It’s generally well worth the cost—often less than $300 annually for enough space to accommodate 8-10 customers, or three to four small tables. The initial application fee can be $100 to $500. But you won’t have to pay that again—unless you end up wanting to expand or reduce your use of the sidewalk.
Keep your staff on top of the outdoor business
Often, outdoor tables aren’t visible from inside your business, so it’s easy for staff to forget about them. Staff up if you need to, and if you have a full-service operation, make sure outdoor patrons are being checked on regularly. If you’re counter-service only, at least be sure your outdoor area is clean at all times—no drink-cup rings or crumbs on the tables. It will do you no favors in enticing customers.
It might seem easiest to assign one server to the patio, but that will strain that server if everyone wants to sit outside (and will mean they’re getting loads of tips, so other servers might be resentful if tips aren’t pooled). If you give every server a table outside, you’ll keep the workload even and make it easy for them to check on each other’s tables.
Establish a pet policy
Guaranteed, when you open your outdoor space, customers will start showing up with their dogs. This will bring in more business as well as potential hassles. Some guests may be allergic, and some dogs may not be well-behaved enough to sit quietly while people eat and drink around them.
If you want to allow pets on your premises, you could post specific pet days/hours or make part of your outdoor space for human guests only. But whatever you do, make it a requirement that dogs are leashed. Any dog can be driven to nip, wander, or even use the patio as a bathroom.
Of course, you could also ban pets altogether. But generally, dogs that are welcome on the outskirts of restaurants can offer a lot of joy and interest to customers.
The outdoor decor matters
Try your outdoor setting a natural extension of your café’s interior. Be it casual or formal. At least stick to the same color scheme as your interior. Potted plants, string lights and space heaters are other great ways to create a memorable outdoor space.
If you don’t have an awning or large eaves, you should also add table umbrellas to protect patrons from sun or rain. You certainly don’t want them running inside if it starts to sprinkle, and have nowhere to seat them.
Over 90 percent of restaurant operators say weather changes affect their sales and customer counts, according to The National Restaurant Association. Your outdoor seating area, of course, will be the most affected by weather.
Server uniforms should be weather appropriate
If your staff wears uniforms or abides by a dress code, make they’re comfortable for the season. Consider a lightweight polo for warm days and a long-sleeved one for chillier ones. You could also design a T-shirt for the season and sell them to patrons as well.