How to Set-up Al Fresco Dining: A Restaurateur's Guide

Trends 39 minute read 01 April 2021

Research by Big Hospitality suggests that nearly 80% of UK diners would spend longer at restaurants if they could dine outdoors.

It’s therefore a good job that one of the few upsides of the COVID-19 pandemic will probably force more of us to eat outside than ever before. Al-fresco dining is something that’s far more familiar to countries like Australia, Greece, and many parts of America. But in countries with more changeable weather, that means al-fresco dining is usually in short supply.

Well, in 2021, that looks set to change. If you’re a restaurateur who is chomping at the bit to maximise every possible source of revenue, al-fresco dining could become one of your best allies.

Whether you’re chasing a Michelin Star or planning your first small restaurant business, this is the only outside dining guide you need.

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✅ Pros of al-fresco dining

It isn’t just the pandemic which is raising everyone’s awareness of outdoor dining. Al-fresco has a number of benefits you can’t avoid, including:

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❌ Cons of al-fresco dining

Types of al-fresco dining (yes, there’s more than one)

Good news: you have several options when it comes to setting up your restaurant for outdoor dining.

Your choice will depend largely on your chosen style of table management, but it’s important to get your head around the different types of al-fresco dining that are available.

1. Sidewalk seating

It’s an Americanism, but it simply refers to offering comfortable chairs directly outside your venue to encourage passers-by to stop and dine.

2. Patio dining

This is arguably the most traditional form of al-fresco dining. If you’ve got space out back for a bunch of chairs and tables away from the hustle and bustle of the street, this’ll become a favourite spot for your customers.

3. Rooftop dining

Lucky enough to have a roof terrace? Use it! This is becoming a more common form of dining in city centre hotels, thanks to the views afforded.

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4. Garden dining

Similar to patio dining, garden al-fresco is all about making use of whatever outdoor space you have - even if it’s simply a case of placing a bunch of seats and tables on your lawn.

6 tips for creating the best al-fresco dining experience

There’s a reason 30% of people expect to be tempted more by street food eateries over the coming years: they want the ease and convenience associated with outdoor dining.

As a restaurateur, you can offer just that. And, yes, al-fresco dining might be something that your staff aren’t particularly keen on you introducing (usually for fear of increased workload), but if you follow the tips below, those concerns will quickly disappear.

1. Focus on the first impression

We’ve all experienced that sinking feeling when you enter an outdoor dining space during a lovely summer’s day, only to feel underwhelmed by what’s on offer.

Like everything in the restaurant sector, first impressions count when it comes to al-fresco dining. So, make sure the team’s priority each morning is to tidy your outdoor space and leave it looking irresistible for those who are likely to drop in for a bite to eat.

2. Don’t let standards drip

So, you’ve pretty much nailed your service inside, but what about your al-fresco dining experience? Introducing a brand-new form of dining to an established restaurant can sometimes result in a less than stellar customer experience.

This is a scarily easy trap to fall into. Your outdoor dining area will be slightly cut-off from the rest of the operation, therefore tables can be left to fester while staff focus more wholesomely on the interior dining space.

To avoid this, make sure you and your team treat the al-fresco area as simply an extension of your in-door dining operation. Whether your guests choose to eat inside or outside, they should experience the exact same level of service.

If this means additional staff or shifts, it’ll be a great investment.

3. Let people know that it exists!

If you’re lucky enough to be able to offer sidewalk dining, the seats themselves will do a lot of the advertising for you, but if your al-fresco option is tucked away at the rear of the property, you’ll need to do some serious marketing.

You can’t just open an al-fresco dining area and expect people to turn up. Even if it’s steaming hot outside, you’ll need to highlight the presence of your shiny new outside dining option. You can do this with email marketing, social media and traditional leaflet drops.

Make a big noise about al-fresco and people will turn up - trust us.

4. Make the most of the space you have available

If you’re blessed with lots of space outside, you can focus as much as possible on creating enough gaps between tables to maximise both the number of potential covers and the privacy of diners.

However, if - like most restaurants - your outdoor dining space is at a premium, you’ll need to be a little more creative.

The trick is to not get too greedy with the potential to significantly increase your number of available covers. Instead, be realistic about how many people you can seat (and serve) outside, and keep in mind that all-important space between tables.

It’s also important to think about smokers, and the potential discomfort which could be introduced if your al-fresco area shares the same space as a smoking area.

Remember that you can also use plants and other garden ornaments to liven up the space and make it feel as large and welcoming as possible.

5. Consider events

One of the best things about al-fresco dining is the option to offer occasional events.

From outdoor gigs to chef demonstrations, it’s important to think about the space you might need to stage events. Sure, this will eat up some of your seating options, but events will be an important element of your al-fresco marketing effort going forward and should enable you to increase the number of diners more consistently across the week.

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6. Think about the al-fresco audience

It’s important to note that the people who are likely to dine outside at your restaurant may well be a customer segment in their own right. For instance, research has revealed that 42% of families with kids will look for an outside dining space. Can you confidently say that you’re targeting that market with your al-fresco marketing efforts?

This is yet another reason to spend plenty of time assessing your audience and placing them into ‘buckets’ of email lists to which you can send specific news and offers. The good news is that your al-fresco list should increase in size considerably over the next few years.

Wrapping up

Al-fresco dining looks like it’s set to stay, and that can only be wonderful news for savvy restaurateurs.

We hope this guide has given you plenty to focus on when it comes to outdoor dining. The time to start planning and building your own version of al-fresco is now, so what are you waiting for?

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