Ramp up outdoor atmosphere with warmer weather on the way.

Spring and summer are just around the corner, and for many, that means the return of outdoor dining. Draw the crowds back with these tips for ramping up your outdoor atmosphere.

Set the Scene

Take the time now, in the transition between seasons, to make your outdoor space as beautiful and functional as possible. Tend to any landscaping needs, including refreshing old or broken planters, installing new plants, and prepping your space if you plan to plant a chef’s garden. Pull tables and chairs out of storage and make sure they’re in good working order. Take the time to clean them and address any issues, such as the need to order new furniture. Consider what additional materials you may need for successful outdoor service: umbrellas, outdoor menus, chalkboards — and make a plan to source those items now.

This is also a great time to look at the layout of your outdoor dining spaces. Consider accessibility for a variety of guests as well as your staff when making decisions about layout. Talk with servers to find out where the bottlenecks are, and troubleshoot ways to improve the flow.

Set the Table

Working with your BOH and bar staff, work on creating menus that will highlight the bounty of the warmer seasons. Consider the kinds of foods you like to eat outdoors. Now is the time to play with lighter flavors, chilled soups, frozen cocktails, seafood, and of course, the great seasonal produce that’s coming our way. As you develop and test the menu, share new items with your followers online to give them a taste of what’s to come.

Set the Calendar

One great way to draw an outdoor crowd is with fun programming, like patio concerts or special guest chef appearances. First, determine how many of these types of events you’d like to host — is it weekly or monthly? Next, determine the budget that you can spend to make these events special. Once you know how many events you can handle and the budget you are working with, break the seasons down by month and identify holidays or other occasions where you want to pump up the atmosphere. Major holidays, business anniversaries, national food days (like National Lobster Roll Day, June 15) are all good places to start.

Next, begin the outreach to musicians, chefs, and other key players to schedule the events. Sit down with your partners and make sure you are clear on expectations up front so that all parties can help promote and execute harmoniously together. Once the pieces are in place, you can begin to promote. Send notes to local press, add your events to relevant community calendars, and of course, promote them on your website, social media, and in person to your guests. If you are still doing a robust takeout business, include messaging about your opening and spring/summer events with each order.

Set the Tone

This is a hopeful time for many, with restaurants across the country reopening and hoping to get diners to return. But it can also be a period of uncertainty. Meet with your entire staff, with a focus on those that handle your outdoor operations, and revisit your training tools to make sure everyone is ready to welcome guests back in a way that aligns with your brand and makes guests feel safe, special, and appreciated.

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