The sun is shining, the days are getting longer, and people are starting to venture back out into reopening restaurants and bars. The summer months always make outdoor spaces inviting and our recent spring spent inside means we are craving some Vitamin D more than ever.
COVID-19 restrictions are beginning to lift and preliminary studies show that gathering outdoors is safer. The basic recommendations remain – stay 6’ apart, wear masks, and clean surfaces often – but the CDC notes that “coronaviruses survive for shorter periods at higher temperatures and higher humidity.” Although there is still much we don’t know, this supports many venues across the country reopening with service outside. At the very least, it is much easier to add space between guests outside than in. As we looked for ways to help our customers and the industry bounce back, we dug into what the landscape looks like for outdoor service.
Safely reopening after COVID-19 restrictions
First, if you already have a patio or balcony at your venue, you are in a great position to draw guests back. If you don’t have much, or any, formal outdoor space, don’t worry – there are still options for you. Many locations are easing restrictions or implementing programs to help reopening venues. You may be able to use parking lots or sidewalks. Some cities are even closing down streets for people to use for eating outdoors. Contact your mayor’s office or check for the latest information from your state governor to find out what public spaces might be available to you.
Whatever way you set up your outdoor space, don’t forget hand sanitizer stations, posted signs about mask policies, and other safety precautions. The measures you’re taking will reassure guests so feel free to advertise them.
Get geared up
In addition to spacing out your tables, look into other ways to reduce cross contamination. Technology available, such as QR codes for ordering or self-serve bars with contactless pours, are great options. For more information, check out our previous post on trends we’re seeing for reopening.
Next, move as much equipment for service outdoors as possible. After you set up your outdoor space with perfectly spaced tables, the last thing you want is a cluster of guests inside around a bar or pickup station. Look for ways to increase points of service while allowing guests their space. Solutions such as Sestra’s outdoor mobile bars will bring service outside without requiring any new permanent structures.
Spread the word
Last but not least, make sure your guests know that you are open and have outdoor seating options. Google, Yelp and TripAdvisor all allow searches for “outdoor seating” so make sure your listing information is up to date. Direct email and social media campaigns are a great way to speak directly with your audience as your venue’s situation develops.
General tips for outdoor service
Global pandemic aside, setting up outdoor service offers your guests a unique seasonal experience. As we’ve covered before, seasonal changes help draw in more traffic as the days grow longer and warmer. That said, eating outdoors has its challenges and Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate. An errant rain shower, a few pesky bugs, and plain old heat and humidity are high on the list of obstacles you’ll face. Here are some things to consider when planning your outdoor space.
Set the stage
To start, think about the ambiance you want to create outside. Consider how you want passersby to see your venue’s personality and how you’ll keep the brand contiguous for guests inside and out.
Beat the heat
Summer brings heat. For recommendations on how to mitigate it, check out this article by Gordon Food Service. They recommend leveraging the natural beauty of sun shades and foliage. Adding plants to your awnings can drop the temperature of your seating area while providing gorgeous backdrops. Some plants even act as natural bug repellent. Large patio fans will keep your guests cool and refreshed even when the temperature climbs. When it’s time for service, talk to your team about the importance of keeping a guest’s glass full of ice water.
Look for ways to keep the space comfortable in a variety of weather conditions. A simple bad weather plan will take the panic out of a spring shower. For example, you could offer sanitized, branded umbrellas. Your guests will be tickled by the adventure and impressed by your organization.
Plan for long term
Hot summer days aren’t the only time for outdoor service to shine. This article from Cake looks at ways to extend outdoor service into the chillier months. They recommend investing in outdoor heaters to continue patio service well into fall. If you have the space, think about a beautiful fire pit – no one will be able to resist photographing it for the ‘gram.
Finally, not all technology is safe outdoors. As you look for solutions, make sure you coordinate with providers to get options that are protected from the elements. As Gordon Food Service mentions, “Make sure that electrical and POS components are enclosed so they can withstand weather exposure.” Double check that equipment set up for outdoor service is also built to keep any product inside safe from high or low temperatures.
We’re all in this together
Shifting your service options can seem like a daunting task, especially when facing our current situation. Don’t forget that you are part of a limitlessly creative community all working to reopen safely. The opportunities far outweigh the challenges and solutions you find today could benefit your venue far into the future.
Want to know how Sestra’s mobile bars can move your service to the great outdoors? Let’s chat.