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June 02, 2020

5 Steps for Creating an Outdoor Dining Area

Samantha Hubay

Written by:

Samantha Hubay

5 Steps for Creating an Outdoor Dining Area

While many restaurants across the nation are now able to welcome diners again, “business as usual” is still a distant dream. In an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 and promote health and safety within businesses, temporary capacity restrictions have been set by public health departments across the country. Some of these restrictions require restaurants to limit their capacity to 50% or even 25% of their typical dining room maximum. Unfortunately, these capacity reductions could cause profitability struggles for your restaurant.

Key Takeaways You Will Get From This Article

1. When creating an outdoor area you need to dedicate a space and set it up with the appropriate furniture.

2. Develop an efficient workflow and consider seating by reservation only. 

3. As you prepare to open the outdoor area, share on your website, social media, storefront, and anywere else you share information with your customers.  

Especially right now, your restaurant is more than just a place to eat. For many people, it’s a place to relax and re-discover a sense of normalcy. However, to bring the “normal” to as many people as possible under these new rules and regulations, you’ll need to get a bit creative.

Thankfully, summer is right around the corner. Especially in our home state of Ohio, when the sun is out, many people want to be outside with it! If you have space available for outdoor dining, it may provide a temporary solution for both your restaurant and diners looking to enjoy the summer weather.

Here are five steps to help you create an outdoor dining area.


1. Dedicate a space.

If you don’t already have a patio or deck attached to your restaurant, it’s time to get creative. Bring your team together to brainstorm ways you could use your outdoor property for dining space. Depending on your restaurant and location, you may want to try:

  • Safely blocking a section of your parking lot off for outdoor dining.
  • Contacting your local government to ask if you can use a section of sidewalk for outdoor dining.
  • Transforming the yard of your restaurant into a festive summer dining area.

2. Set your space up for sunny success.

Once you’ve chosen your outdoor space, you’ll need to set it up with the right dining furniture. Outdoor furniture is typically made of plastic, wood, or metal. All materials have their advantages and disadvantages. The right choice for you will depend on the size of your space and the amount of maintenance time you are willing to dedicate to it. Remember, no matter which furniture type you choose, it will need to be disinfected after each guest leaves. Some options to consider include:

  • Bar stools and high-top tables
  • Plastic or metal round tables and chairs
  • Wooden picnic tables or tables with separate benches

3. Develop an efficient workflow.

Especially if outdoor dining is new to your team, it is important to come together and develop an operating plan. The goal should be to make sure all customers are served in a timely manner, while also remaining focused on the health and safety of everyone involved. Make sure your outdoor staff knows that staying hydrated is essential, especially when they’re required to wear face coverings on hot days. Talk with your staff and determine their level of comfort with working inside, outside, or both. Be transparent and distribute the workload evenly, so all wait staff have an equal opportunity for service.


4. Consider seating by reservation only.

No matter what configuration you end up with, seating is going to be limited due to the capacity restrictions your restaurant is facing. To reduce stress for your customers and employees, consider seating by reservation only. Not only will this help you comply with capacity restrictions, but it will help your team know exactly how many tables they’ll be serving, and when they’ll need to turn those tables. Particularly now, when extra sanitization and safety measures are in place, accepting reservations only will provide a sense of structure and eliminate some of the unknown for staff and customers alike.


5. Let your customers know!

Once you have a plan in place, don’t forget to share it. Post on your website, social media pages, in your front window, or anywhere else you share information with your loyal customers.


As you prepare to reopen your restaurant, remember to think creatively. How can you reconfigure your indoor or outdoor space to safely accommodate the most people? What information do you need to share with your customers? How can you support your staff during this time? All of these questions and more will help you critically think about your entire . restaurant experience and discover ways to focus on both people and profit.


For more restaurant resources, check out these blog posts:

Ten Tips for Marketing Your Restaurant on Social Media

How to Safely Reopen Your Business after the COVID-19 Shutdown

How to Balance Customer Experience with Health Department Expectations



Sources: Business Insider

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