The delay of game caused by COVID-19 has many on thin ice. Patios have been a boon to weather the storm. Extending patio season into the colder months is essential to maximize capacity. Canadians understand cold and willingly brave it for entertainment – think hockey, skiing, skating, and sledding, to name just a few. Being prepared in all these sports is vital to success.
“If operators can make it work, extending patio season is a source of revenue. It’s that simple. Restaurants right now are in a situation where they have accumulated a lot of debt over the last six to eight months. Anything that can bring in revenue and get them back to profitability is important,” says James Rilett, VP Central Canada for Restaurants Canada.
“If operators can make it work, extending patio season is a source of revenue. It’s that simple.”James Rilett, VP Central Canada for Restaurants Canada
What will it take to be successful?
Rilett says, emphasizing the three Cs, “Capital, clear rules and customers.”
“The capital or investment and infrastructure, if needed, might be difficult for some operators but worth the effort.”
Your checklist… at a minimum
- Ensuring you have the required space for a cold weather patio
- Finding suitable tables and chairs, wind breaks, and heaters
- Making doorway adjustments
- Finding mats suitable for the elements and winter weather-ready vests for serving staff
“It’s imperative that operators clarify and understand the rules and regulations set out by their municipality to operate a patio beyond the typical season,” Rilett adds.
These R and Rs include space restrictions, operation times and acceptable equipment (heater types). Reach out to your local government to confirm understanding, if required. It’s in your communities’ best interest to be successful.
“Finally, customers need to embrace the change,” says Rilett.
The game plan
Comfort. For customers, definitely, but also for staff. Remember, comfort is both physical and psychological.
“For customers to embrace the change, operators must make it as comfortable as possible,” says Rilett. “Wind breaks, heaters and hot drinks on the menu but also through marketing initiatives like (BYOB) ‘bring your own blanket’ to make it inviting and a destination/experience.”
Bright and warm lighting, fabrics and music all add to the feel of the space and create a non-temperature warmth.
“It will be difficult on staff moving repeatedly between warm to cold. It’s imperative to keep your staff comfortable braving the elements,” says Rilett. Providing branded toques and vests, an allowance for boots, or setting shifts to rotate between patio and indoor dining can ease their minds and reduce their exposure.
Remember to share safety protocols with customers and staff repeatedly for their mental comfort. Make sure customers know your operation cares for their wellbeing and their community.
How do you know it’s working? “If people are willing to come there and Instagramming and telling their friends about it, it’s a success,” says Rilett.
No matter the weather, customers crave great food.
Rilett reminds us, “Adapt your menu to outdoor dining. Offer more soups and stews, hot toddies, hot drinks. Maybe, don’t offer fries.”
Yes, it’s about taste, but it’s also about the three Ts: transport, texture, temperature.
How is the food delivered to the table? Use insulated mugs (branded, of course), ceramic bowls that can be preheated (those with lids are even better), and embrace extra layers like cozies or napkins to retain heat.
What foods should be the stars of your winter patio? Baked, stewed, braised, roasted – just the words evoke warmth. How about patio-only specials? Soups you can sip paired with comfort-filled sandwiches and wraps or hearty baked items that retain heat (such as smoky butternut squash mac and cheese, chicken black bean enchiladas, turkey pot pie).
Add a selection of hot beverages with and without alcohol to increase the temperature – think house-mulled wine, chai spiced hot chocolate, caramel apple cider, maple walnut latte, and teas.
Heat up dessert selections, too. Fresh from the oven cookies, hot pear crisp with warm caramel sauce, warm hand pies are only a few examples.
“To extend patio season, almost every part of the business will be affected, from adjusting table configurations so indoor diners don’t sit next to a cold door area to special patio-only menu items,” says Rilett.
Face off against the weather and put your patio into overtime. Be creative. Make it comfortable. Be memorable. Game on!
Heat up your patio with creative twists
- Toque night – the crazier the better and get staff involved.
- Scarf it up – wrap up necks and scarf down great food.
- BYOP – bring your own pillow. Go beyond blankets and encourage your customers to bring their own comfort options.
- Hot stones – create the Zen of warmth.
- Inside out – warm up with a hot sauce challenge.
- Ice ice baby – think oysters, caviar.
- Hand and foot warmers – warm hands, warm heart. Provide disposable hand/foot warmers or invest in rechargeable (and cleanable) ones.
- Brain buckets – trivia nights, winter sport-themed, helmets optional.
About the Author
Cherie Thompson understands foodservice from field to fork. A B.Sc. in Agriculture and experience in quality control, food science, product development, recipe development/editing, customer service, and teaching as well as owning and operating two independent foodservice operations have given her a unique perspective on the food industry.