The Pros and Cons of Outdoor Seating at Your Restaurant

Charlette Beasley

Charlette Beasley

Charlette is a writer and content strategist in Florida. She writes payroll content for Fit Small Business and helps her own clients create industry-specific copy for their business. In addition, she loves “beaching” with her two kids.

Outdoor seating can be a huge value-add for restaurants. It gives customers more options with which to personalize their dining experience and expands the capacity of customers that can be served. This potential for higher revenue is what usually drives restaurateurs to consider adding an outdoor seating plan to their restaurant’s marketing strategy. However, the monetary investment and unpredictability of important factors, like the weather, that could affect the plan’s success are drawbacks to consider.

 

People dining outside a restaurant

Pros of adding outdoor seating at your restaurant

More seating for customers

Customers would have the option of dining indoors or outdoors, giving restaurants the capacity to serve more customers at one time. This means they can hold special events, like birthday parties, engagement dinners, and so forth. 

It also lessens the likelihood of your staff having to manage long waitlists for incoming customers that you don’t yet have a place to sit, potentially securing hundreds of dollars or more in revenue; the longer customers are forced to wait before being seated, the more likely they are to leave your establishment. According to a study by Long Range Systems, restaurant parties wait 30 minutes on average for a table.  

Increase in revenue

More customers usually equals more revenue. Training your waitstaff on the basics of upselling and quality customer service can help maximize your restaurant’s earning potential. You can also consider billing large parties (eight or more)  a service charge, as this is a very common practice in the foodservice industry. Per IRS tax laws, service charges are considered revenue to the business (not the waitstaff), and you can distribute all or a portion of it to servers at your discretion. 

Stronger business brand

Adding outdoor seating to your restaurant can strengthen your business brand. Depending on where you live, it can help to create a vastly different experience than your indoor seating area. For instance, if your restaurant is in Florida, you can create a beach vibe by adding palm trees and other island-like props to the outdoor area. And if you have a waterfront location, you could use it to target new demographics, like couples looking for good food and a romantic ambiance.

Free advertising

Another pro of outdoor seating that’s often overlooked is free advertising; if your restaurant is located in a place that receives high traffic, your business is sure to attract hungry people walking by, especially if your outdoor setup is nicely designed and the food smells and looks delicious.

Cons of adding outdoor seating at your restaurant

Requires an investment

Adding an outdoor seating area to your restaurant costs money; depending on the size, design, location, and so on, you could spend from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars or more to set it up. If the space is not already open, you’ll need to hire contractors to build out the area to match your vision. In addition, you’ll need to purchase tables, chairs, and decorations to adorn your outside space.

Could be affected by uncontrollable factors

Having part of your restaurant located outside subjects your business to unpredictable factors, like the weather. When it rains or storms, you won’t be able to utilize the area unless you have a backup plan in place (retractable umbrellas, an awning). Customers are also less likely to want to dine outside in extreme temperatures (too cold or too hot). You could consider using a patio fan or even screening in the area to protect customers from the elements while still providing an outdoor experience.

Compliance issues

Expanding your business beyond the area for which you were originally zoned could cause problems with local, city, or county ordinances. Some localities require restaurants to apply for another permit to operate outside. You might also be subject to an additional health inspection. Since it varies by location, it’s important to check your local laws; no restaurateur wants to inadvertently break regulations that could cost them even more money (penalties, fines). And if your expansion plans include the use of public property, like sidewalks, there might be limitations that only allow you to use the area during certain months of the year.

Adding an outdoor area to your restaurant is a great marketing strategy that can help revolutionize your business by increasing revenue and strengthening your brand. Before getting started, it’s important to review your budget and local zoning laws to ensure you account for all costs. You should also consider how unpredictable the weather is and add an additional budget item to help minimize the potential business losses you might incur.

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