• With summer winding down and milder weather on the way, there are some easy ways to make your outdoor dining space more appealing to guests.
  • Plants can provide both form and function, while the right furnishings put guests at ease and lighting sets the perfect mood.

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By Mark Plumlee

Outdoor dining is more popular than ever. The proof is in the profits—a 2021 survey found that some restaurants make as much as 70% of their daily sales from outdoor dining!

Creating a busy, bustling outdoor seating area isn’t as simple as putting out a few tables and chairs and calling it good. But it’s not rocket science either. Here are four tried-and-true ways to spruce up your outdoor dining area to maximize space, attract customers and potentially increase profits.

1. Make it a Green Scene
Plants can help transform your outdoor dining space into an alfresco oasis. But their benefits aren’t purely aesthetic. Here are just a few of the ways plants provide both form and function for your outdoor space:

  • Protective barriers: People like feeling connected to the outside world when they dine outdoors. However, that doesn’t mean they want pedestrians bumping into their table or to be seated right next to a bus stop. Plants can help create an all-important barrier from the less desirable elements of the outside world.
  • Space management: If your space is limited, potted plants can create natural dividing lines between tables. This can make outdoor dining spaces feel more private. As an added benefit, it may help servers navigate the space more easily.
  • Reduce environmental hazards: Plants have been proven to improve air quality and absorb unwanted noise, making for a more pleasant outdoor dining environment.
  • Create a calm atmosphere: Did you know that simply looking at a plant can reduce stress? Just saying … relaxed diners are far more likely to linger and order dessert!

2. Comfort Considerations
You can’t control the weather. But you can make intelligent decisions about your outdoor dining setup that will protect guests from the elements so they can still dine outside in less-than-ideal weather. Here are two important things to consider:

  • Overhead cover: Few people enjoy sitting in direct sunlight or in drizzly weather without protection. An overhead cover such as an awning, umbrellas or overhead panels can keep guests comfortable while they dine outdoors.
  • Furniture: Consider both your unique space and diners’ comfort when choosing furniture for your outdoor dining space. Whether round, square or rectangle, choose a table shape that will maximize seating while allowing clear passage for servers.
  • Focus on comfort: Another consideration is the style and material of your seating. For instance, metal chairs often get very hot in the sun and could scorch diners’ legs—not fun! Additionally, touches like cushions or supported chair backs can make your space more enticing and comfortable for outdoor diners.
  • Light a flame: Firepits are another outdoor furnishing element that can entice customers and enhance their experience, especially as the nights get chillier in the fall. They’re far more likely to linger for one last glass of wine if they can enjoy it by the flickering flames of a cozy firepit! Firepits come in a variety of shapes and sizes—there’s something for just about any type of outdoor dining setup.

3. Set the Mood With Lighting
If you plan on serving dinner or drinks after dark, lighting is vital for safety in an outdoor dining space. But that doesn’t mean your lighting has to be austere or boring.

The right lighting can also create an ambiance that draws customers like moths to a flame. Simply putting up strings of lights can add to the appeal of your outdoor dining space. It’s like creating an on-demand starry night for diners.

While overhead strings of lights are classic, they’re far from the only option. Outdoor sconces on a wall, lanterns, torches or candles are just a few of the other visually pleasing outdoor lighting options available. It’s mostly a matter of your aesthetic, outdoor space and lighting needs.

4. Get Smart With Signage
Attractive, easy-to-read outdoor signage can help improve order flow, potentially increase sales and make your life easier.

For instance, a well-designed sandwich board is a simple but mighty tool that can improve the outdoor dining experience. It can tell customers where to check in for outdoor seating, alert them about any specials, highlight a special event, or convey any number of other messages. Customizable restaurant posters can accomplish a similar goal at a cheaper cost.

Another idea? An outdoor sign featuring your specials. All too many restaurants prominently display their specials indoors but neglect to feature them outdoors. A sign or board calling attention to your specials can increase guests’ interest in special menu items or promotions.

Creating a comfortable and beautiful outdoor dining space doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. By following the simple tips in this post, you can create the kind of space where people want to linger—and order an extra course or two!

Mark Plumlee is a freelance writer whose articles have been published in Full Service Restaurant, Modern Restaurant Management, Quick Service Restaurant, Hospitality Tech, That Oregon Life, The San Francisco Examiner, Blazersedge and other blogs. As a copywriter, he has helped restaurants and small businesses grow and define their brand for more than five years.