Five outdoor dining tips

  • Mar 28, 2022  |  John Jones  |  4 min read

With the UK weather finally announcing the arrival of Spring, thoughts among restaurant owners inevitably turn to offering outdoor dining. For those businesses with the luxury of outside space, it’s a great way to bring in more customers (particularly those concerned about enclosed spaces) and increase revenue. Here are five top tips for providing a great outdoor customer experience.

WI-FI

It’s summer, customers are loving that feel-good factor and looking forward to meeting in the pub or restaurant garden for chat, drinks and food. It is also a perfect place for catching up on social media, emails and calling friends to find out where they’ve got to, so an outside space with poor or no WI-FI is going to let itself down.

Let’s not get into the whole “free Wi-Fi” thing: WI-FI isn’t a novelty anymore and neither can it be charged for. It needs to be available, with wide coverage, reliable, and secure. Restaurants which fail to provide WI-FI in outside spaces, or give customers a cranky network which keeps dropping will lose out on returning customers.

Order-at-Table

The march of technology never stops and customers have insatiable appetites for technology-driven approaches to what were once mundane things. In part stimulated by the pandemic and its associated need to reduce touch points, order-at-table is now an established (and expected) part of the dining experience. 

Some restaurant owners have mourned what they see as the loss of personal service with the arrival of order-at-table and we have some sympathy. However, there really is no reason that diners should feel in any way robbed of attentive service, because they still need a warm welcome, showing to their tables and the ordering process explained. Indeed, introducing the order-at-table system is the ideal opportunity to engage customers in exactly the same way as before. 

There are a number of order-at-table products available, ranging from stand-alone systems (a little disjointed on the tech front!), rapidly pushed-into-production POS system add-ons plus those found within the best restaurant management systems. The latter will typically offer a customer-facing app for the diners’ smartphones and require them to scan a QR code at the table, before they access and order from the menu.

Pay-at-Table

Clearly there is little point in trying to reduce touch-points with order-at-table if the customer then has to wend their way through the restaurant to pay at the till. Pay-at-table technology works in the same way as the above, and as the name suggests allows customers to wrap up their experience by paying right where they’re seated. Again, there is an excellent opportunity for the service staff to approach tables when it is payment time in the same way as before yet this time explain how the self-pay model works. Many restaurants keep their staff at the table until the diners have paid, before wishing them well and clearing. Not that different to the pen and paper method, is it?

The best pay-at-table systems offer a range of remittance options, from debit and credit cards to e-payment via Apple Pay. 

Hygiene/attentiveness

This may sound obvious, but it is critically important that the same attention is paid to outside areas as the dining room, when it comes to al fresco eating. Customers expect cleanliness, promptly cleared tables and a general sense of pride, rather than having to clear the last diners’ detritus themselves. Sanitizing regimes need to be strong with tables clearly wiped as part of a structured system and sanitizer available. The reduction of touch points is still a prime driver in the fight against Covid, so restaurateurs should consider removing cruet sets and replacing them with sachets - at least for now. 

Achieving these objectives takes a structured service routine which focuses on attentiveness. Staff are going to need to be trained in what to look for, when to approach diners and when to clean. Not to mention opportunities for cross and up-selling, of course.

Outdoor space

Unfortunately restaurant, pub and café owners who sit their customers in the back yard by the bins are not going to get much return trade. We’ve nothing against back yards, they just need to be a nice place to socialise. Restaurateurs need to approach the décor and furniture in the outside space as they do the interior: furniture needs to be comfortable and in good repair; signage clear; décor of a high quality and in keeping with the establishment’s brand values. 

Making a relaxing environment need not be expensive; it just needs some thought. With a few carefully placed pot plants, trellis and some key colours, the back yard will be transformed into a great and enjoyable place to be. 

Wrapping up

Customers dining outside expect a number of technology comforts and restaurateurs need to provide them, while maintaining a high standard of personal service. Sanitary standards must remain high, as must overall attention to detail and a pleasant environment created. 

Get this right and restaurant owners will enjoy a high level of customer satisfaction, repeat business and reputational gain - and we all know that’s a good thing for the coffers.

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