If you are fortunate enough to have an outside area and you are offering food you have the opportunity to increase footfall for many months of the year, but only if you get the basics right. I think you’ll find most pub customers can’t resist eating and drinking outside if the get the chance, but all too often they find the experience less satisfactory than that on offer indoors in many pubs.
Research (by Hospitality GEM) shows 79% of people would increase their dwell time if table service was available al fresco, while 48% said that said that slow or poor service most puts them off from eating outside. It’s clear from these figures it is essential you get your outside service right.
Your outside space is often the area that guests see first when they first arrive at an establishment, so make sure yours is attractive and welcoming, you’ll hear the term “kerb appeal” bandied about in our industry, this is what it refers to. Your outdoor space should be a priority during morning set up and make sure your team doesn’t forget about it during the day; no one is going to be enticed into coming in by empty tables piled high with dirty dishes and empty glasses.
Who’s Going To Use Your Outdoor Areas?
Hospitality GEM’s research shows 42 % of families with children will use an outdoor space and al fresco dining is popular with families as children are able to move around more freely and make more noise than is normally acceptable inside. Eating out with children can be a stressful time for parents, so make sure your staff are understanding and friendly, engaging with the children and demonstrating that they’re in a family friendly space. If you have a garden, it may be worth stocking games like giant Jenga to keep children entertained while parents relax. (See the article on Children & Pubs)
Keep Up The Good Work
Ensure you have adequate numbers of staff on shift and processes in place to make sure your outside guests are not forgotten about at busy times and service continues as smoothly and efficiently as normal. For instance, it should immediately be clear to your guests whether it’s table service, or whether they need order inside; and, if they do need to order inside, staff still need to be on top of check backs in case of problems.
By the same token, if most guests are eating al fresco, be careful not to ignore or overlook anyone sat inside. As English weather can often be unpredictable, it might be worth introducing a ‘sunshine shift’ where team members are on call if the weather is good to help with extra garden capacity.
The research demonstrates people who eat outside have very similar expectations to those who sit inside; 62% would order two courses per person, directly correlating with those who choose to eat inside, while 54% of respondents won’t be happy with a different menu to that offered inside. The outside area is not an afterthought but a key part of your offering so make sure you treat it as such.
Surprisingly, picnic tables are not a favourite choice when eating outside, with 72% preferring dining tables over 21% of people choosing picnic benches. Remember, outside furniture gets messy more quickly than that indoors, for example unexpected mess from birds is sure to put guests off their meal. Make sure your staff check the cleanliness of tables and chairs in between seating guests, as well as removing plates quickly to avoid attracting flies and wasps. You can also protect furniture through simple measures like providing plenty of ashtrays and making sure there are napkins available outside for mopping up little spills as they happen.
Give Your Customers Space
Make sure you arrange furniture with care, allowing more space than usual between the tables; al fresco diners are often accompanied by pets, or pushchairs and buggies, which take up space around tables. If you want your space to be considered pet-friendly, demonstrate this by adding water bowls and keeping them topped up throughout the day. If you are “dog-friendly” make sure owners keep their animals under tight control, nothing will spoil your day quicker than a child being mauled by another customer’s dog!
Make the most of the space you have available
If you are fortunate to have a large outdoor space, you might consider segmenting it into different areas, one for drinking, one for eating, one for people with children near a play area, and one for smokers. If it’s a small space, think about what you want to focus on and how the area looks, a seasonal mural, hanging baskets and potted plants can really brighten up an otherwise drab area.
Like it or not smokers are a key bugbear for those eating outside, and while it’s a controversial subject, it’s definitely one you need to consider. Perhaps the easiest solution here is to divide up your space and make one section a designated smoking section. If this isn’t possible, especially where space is at a premium, one has to way up the merits of making the entire space a no-smoking are; will your outside diners/drinkers bring in more income than your smokers?
Outside areas can be used for more than just eating from the menu or sipping away at a pint of Pimms. Why not hold a barbecue or a hog roast, an open mic session or run a local beer festival? You might consider investing in outdoor TVs or Pool Tables. Whatever you do, make sure your Premises Licence covers these activities and you keep noise and other pollution to a minimum.
An All Year Round Asset
Remember that outside areas are not just for the summer season. Hospitality GEM’s survey found that 48% would eat outside once the temperature reaches 16-18 degrees C, while 13% would head outside at just 13-15 degrees C. Blankets, heaters and fire pits can make an outdoor area profitable throughout the year.
Stay Within The Law
Outside Bars – You can only put a temporary bar outside if the outside area falls under the licensed area on your premises licence, in the the majority of cases you will need an application to be lodged to have a bar there.You can make two sorts of applications. You can either do a full variation, which is what most authorities would request, or you could do it by way of a minor variation. A minor variation would take you up to three weeks, but a full variation of the licence will take four to eight weeks.
Is there anything else that would need to be applied for? The only other thing you would need permission for under your licence in an area that you own out the back would be for a barbecue or selling hot food after 11pm.
Whatever you do with your outside space, remember to carry out a risk assessment for your activities, for instance making sure the area is adequately lit.