There’s nothing like dining out, especially when it means dining outdoors, and many area restaurateurs are discovering that patio seating is a win-win for them and their customers. The proof of the pudding is in the percentages, with studies showing that patio seating can boost guest check sales by up to 30 percent.
Also known as eating al fresco, dining outside is vastly popular and a great way for restaurateurs to coax folks in for the first time. Plus, people just seem to have their go-to places, with patio seating often one of the ingredients in that perfect recipe.
Bobbi London, owner of the Lansing Mexican restaurant El Azteco, which features a heated patio, has no regrets.
“My guests say it’s the best thing I ever did,” she said.
Here are a few establishments in greater Lansing where, the last we knew, diners and drink lovers have been enjoying the outdoor experience:
If you’re a business owner thinking about extending your seating to the great outdoors, there are some things to consider.
Plan to feature your patio in your marketing efforts, making sure you show it off on your website and social media.
Decide whether you’ll allow dogs on your patio. Some businesses set out water bowls as a sign they’re dog-friendly. If you see dogs or water bowls on a restaurant’s patio, ask a waitstaff, the owner or the manager on duty what their experience has been and if they’d recommend the practice. It seems a safe bet that opening the patio to dogs will encourage patronage otherwise lost if it meant dropping the pooch off at home and doubling back to the restaurant. If you already have the patio but aren’t sure about the pooch part, consider limiting dogs at first to the weekend or maybe lunchtime.
Think about the ways you can make your outdoors eating area practical and a knockout at the same time. An awning to protect guests from sudden showers, umbrellas to shield them from the sun, strings of lights, and potted plants go a long way toward creating a welcoming haven for the outdoor diner. Heating it can extend the time your patio is usable, especially in Michigan’s climate.
What about your menu? Al fresco dining lends itself to grilled foods and lots of fruits, vegetables and salads. Consider serving seasonal foods, showcasing local farmers, and freshening up your drink choices, possibly featuring wines from a local winery.
Keep in mind that not everyone enjoys eating outdoors. Some of us aren’t into the occasional chilly breeze, dive-bombing fly, and backfiring vehicle that sometimes go along with the al fresco experience. It’s important not to neglect what’s going on indoors. Keep the experience just as positive to those who prefer a dark, cozy booth and air conditioning to wrought-iron chairs, bright sun and toasty temps.
If you own a restaurant but don’t have the room to extend seating outdoors, consider offering picnic meals for patrons to enjoy elsewhere. This can be a great idea during the Common Ground Music Festival and other outdoor events happening around Lansing where you can market your services using the event’s hashtags.
Make sure you check out the legality of offering outside dining. Are you allowed to serve alcohol, for instance? What about licenses or permits?
You might also need more waitstaff to serve a patio crowd and more kitchen staff to keep up with food prep; plus, you’ll want furniture that stands up to the elements.
Here’s an interesting fact; Al fresco is said to mean “in the cool” in Italian. But it seems Italians don’t typically associate the term with eating outdoors. Instead, when Italians say al fresco, they’re probably talking about going to jail.
Let’s just say that for a lot of us, eating and drinking delicious things on beautiful patios is a pretty nice way to go to jail.