According to the Vucurevich Simons Advisory Group, restaurants could increase gross profits by up to 65 percent by adding an outdoor dining patio. It was also estimated that a restaurant’s proposed initial investment of $200,000 in creating an outdoor dining space could yield a return of more than $500,000 in sales.
Pair these success stats with the arrival of warm summer weather and the reopening of on-premise dining service, and it’s clear that patios are set to become irrefutable hot spots for restaurant dining.
However, this does also mean that you need to be prepared to take on some heavy competition. And one of the best advantages on your side is your menu.
Here are six tips for creating a stand-out menu that’s perfect for patio dining.
Think Simple, Seasonal and Local
On a hot summer’s day, it’s unlikely that your customers will want to order your famous fire-alarm spicy chili. Opt for simple ingredients and lighter dishes to help them stay cool.
Watermelon, ripe tomatoes, strawberries, and fresh corn can all lead to refreshing dishes. And ingredientslike fresh herbs, citrus and other fruits, and vegetables offer notable flavor impact without being heavy or high in saturated fats. Seasonal summer ingredients are likely to be the least expensive, and they add an extra splash of color to the presentation of your dishes.
The other amazing thing about using simple ingredients like these is the fact that you’re likely able to source them locally.
Serving food from local farms and suppliers is not only great for your regional economy, it also attracts patrons to menu items that feature produce they’ve been seeing at local markets or farm stands, which in a way offers a sense of transparency in your menu.
Buying from local businesses is also more sustainable as it reduces the amount of harmful greenhouse gases that enter our atmosphere due to long-haul transport. And studies have discovered that consumers are willing to pay more for eco-friendly experiences.
Make it Easy to Execute
A patio may increase your guest capacity, but your kitchen doesn’t need to increase in size or capacity to accommodate the additional output. Engineer a menu that makes execution feasible for your back-of-house staff without compromising your quality.
Consider creating a smaller outdoor menu. This can offer you the opportunity to feature more profitable items, steering guests to options that are easy to handle.
Amp Up Your Salads
Fresh and light, salads are a popular dish in the summer for guests looking for something in stark contrast to the warm and heavy staples of the winter months.
To create summer salads that go beyond the iceberg lettuce standard, look to seasonal produce, like hearts of palm, sugar snap peas, butter lettuce, cucumbers, and endive.
And don’t be afraid to add some fruit alongside your leafy greens — it’s not just for traditional fruit salads. Elderberries, blackberries, Asian pears, peaches, and cherries are some examples of fruits that are all fair game.
Get Creative with Your Grill
Summer is the time of the year for grill and char flavors. Barbeque chicken, kabobs, steak strips, and more can be intriguing additions. And if your restaurant is based in a metro area, these foods may be of particular interest to apartment dwellers who might not have access to an outdoor grill.
And don’t forget about offering vegetarian options. Grilled vegetables like tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, eggplant, and mushrooms, can elevate the flavor of meatless dishes.
Be sure to also think about the types of fruit you can grill, like pineapples, bananas, and plums. Grilled fruits make great additions to summer desserts or savory dishes.
Add Some Fresh Seafood
With so much popular seafood in season and deliveries being easier to make over long distances, fish and shellfish are simpler and cheaper to get in the summer. Depending on your restaurant’s location, you can also ask your local fish vendor about options that are in season. Similar to locally-grown produce, locally-sourced fish can be a great selling point to your customers.
Take advantage of the availability of fresh seafood by creating tantalizing cold dishes such as shrimp cocktails, ceviche, or a whole chilled shellfish platter. You also can’t go wrong with grilled salmon. And for an especially appealing presentation, you can offer baked or grilled fish served whole.
Don’t Forget the Drinks
Offering seasonal, refreshing summer drinks is a great way to quench the thirst of your guests during these warm months. Think margaritas, mojitos, sangria, piña coladas, and mint juleps. Classic mixes, like gin and tonic and vodka lemonade, work really well, too.
And don’t solely focus on alcoholic mixes. Consider offering non-alcoholic options for designated drivers, younger guests, or patrons who simply choose not to drink. Create fun juice spritzers, juice mixes, mocktails, or smoothies. And if your juice mixes do well, you can always experiment with making them into alcoholic drinks as well.
Building the ideal menu for patio dining is, in essence, all about keeping things simple and staying cool. By following these suggestions you’ll be able to create a summer dining experience that keeps customers coming back all season long.