Al Fresco dining conjures up images of warm sunshine, cool breezes, and green scenery. Not all of this is necessarily relevant to all restaurants that decide to introduce Al Fresco dining, but it does have its allure and it is worthwhile exploring why it might be right for your restaurant. Yes, it might mean working with weather fluctuations, noise pollution, and even city regulations, but if you can pull it off, you can become sought after for something that is literally “outside of the box.”
What is Al Fresco Dining?
The term Al Fresco is Italian-based and loosely means “in the cool air.” In the food business, the term is used to mean dining outdoors. (Funnily enough, actual Italians use the expression al fresco to mean spending time in jail.) Al Fresco dining is popular in the spring, summer, and fall months in locations with temperate and comfortable climates. In lovely weather, Al Fresco dining is casual and relaxed, with a festive, upbeat atmosphere.
If your restaurant has an outdoor patio or any outdoor seating, you can offer Al Fresco dining. In hot weather, you may have to cover the patio or deck with an awning, and in chillier seasons you may have to fire up the outdoor heaters, but if you have the space, Al Fresco dining could work for you.
Why Go Al Fresco
Al Fresco dining is trendy and you will attract more diners to your restaurant with outdoor seating. Today’s diner wants a unique experience and they view eating outdoors, in a more festive atmosphere, as something special. Dining outdoors affects the senses and seems to make the food taste fresher and therefore, better. Some diners enjoy the view and the atmosphere of eating outside with friends and family, and many diners request to dine Al Fresco for the romantic setting and ambiance.
More Seating Means More Business
As a restaurateur who chooses to go with Al Fresco dining, you will essentially be adding a whole other part to your restaurant and with that will come added revenue. By offering additional seating outside, you will increase the number of meals you are serving each night, thus improving your bottom line.
Mother Nature provides her own ambiance and great views, and that will make your diners feel better. This positive feeling, and the desire to linger, can lead them to order more. The fun atmosphere also encourages more wine, beer, and liquor to be consumed, which again means more money for your restaurant. Also, because being outdoors is the main attraction, you don’t have to spend as much money on décor and table decoration.
Make the Most of Your Outdoor Space
If you’ve decided to take the plunge and add an outdoor space to your restaurant, here are a few tips:
- Depending on your location, situate your outdoor space to take advantage of the scenery – mountains, gardens, or other beautiful views.
- Offer Al Fresco-only specials to encourage guests to eat outside.
- Make sure your kitchen and wait staff can handle the extra demand.
- Provide heaters and fans when needed, and use insect-control products.
- Add plants to make your Al Fresco dining fresh and inviting.
- Keep the space clean.
Different Al Fresco Scenarios
If your location allows it, you may have several options when creating an Al Fresco dining space:
Sidewalk Seating – For an urban restaurant, sidewalk seating may be the only option for Al Fresco dining. You’ll find that sidewalk seating attracts people walking by and encourages them to visit your restaurant. During the evening, add some candles for ambiance, and during the day, add umbrellas for shade.
Patio Dining – Dining on a patio is the most traditional Al Fresco option. To add to the ambiance, add a cozy seating area with a sofa and club chairs. Decorate with greenery for an added touch. If you’re in a scenic location, your patio might offer panoramic vistas of a waterfront or surrounding mountains.
Rooftop Dining – If you don’t have a sidewalk area or a patio, maybe you can expand your space to the roof, allowing diners to enjoy a view of skylines or starry nights. Add potted plants, hang lights, and candles for ambiance. Pergolas and attractive awnings add to the décor and protect diners during the day and the evening.
Garden Dining – A garden is like a refuge; even without a picturesque view, it can offer solace from busy life. A garden can also allow diners to see where their food came from, farm-to-table dining, if you landscape your outdoor dining area attractively with the fruits and vegetables you’re serving to your customers.
Attract Customers with Al Fresco Offers and Decor
Create an outside-only happy hour special, especially on hot days when customers may be drawn to air-conditioned interiors. A patio margarita special, for instance, can entice your customers to Al Fresco dining.
Just like your indoor dining room, patios should be updated every five to seven years to keep them modern-looking. Consider incorporating an outdoor fireplace to add ambiance and comfort. Lighting is just as important outdoors as it is indoors, so generously use candles, lanterns, hanging lights, and torches. You may also want to look at adding a water feature such as a fountain or a reflecting pool; the gentle sound of running water is a relaxing element and it communicates freshness and cleanliness.
The Downside of Al Fresco Dining
If the weather is bad, and your outdoor space is not enclosed, you will lose business because you can’t fill your outdoor seating. Additionally, if you don’t have an outdoor restroom, you will increase the load on your indoor restrooms; and people will be constantly moving from outside to inside, which can be distracting to your indoor customers.
In addition, with Al Fresco space comes the need for extra staffing. This may mean hiring extra servers and perhaps more kitchen staff, or even adding a bar and bartender to the outside setting.
As a restaurant owner you need to be aware of any restrictions that your city may have in place for outdoor dining and seating. To ensure safety and accessibility, many localities have created guidelines for restaurants that apply for a permit to place tables, chairs, benches, or planters on the sidewalk. These guidelines aim to ensure that the sidewalk seating is functional and safe.
Al Fresco Dining: Right for Your Restaurant
Adding an Al Fresco dining space to your restaurant enriches the overall customer experience. You’ll find that it adds revenue while increasing your customers’ happiness. Be sure to add some shade and atmosphere to complete the outdoor-dining experience. Also, consider your customers’ needs and make sure that they are comfortable and bug-free to ensure their overall enjoyment. You’ll soon be reaping the rewards of your Al Fresco space.