Cold Weather Outdoor Dining Strategies for Restaurants

Oct 8, 2020
min read
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Wisely’s Winter is Coming content series explores revenue-building strategies for restaurants in cold weather months, including:
Restaurant Subscriptions
Outdoor Dining Strategies for Winter
How to Maximize Profits with Restaurant Gift Cards

o extend the outdoor dining season and maintain a steady flow of revenue in winter, restaurants need to think creatively about their physical space and offerings.

This article outlines the must-haves for cold-weather outdoor dining, ops how-tos, and creative strategies brands can try to keep patios (and parking lot picnic tables) full all winter long.

Key Elements of Outdoor Dining in Winter

This quick list can help keep restaurant customers top-of-mind when creating a cold-weather outdoor dining experience.

  • Protection from the Elements: Comfort is key for a sit-down meal. Outdoor heaters, and branded blankets can keep the patio comfortable longer. Tents, igloos, bonfires, even greenhouses are creative ways to keep a non-traditional outdoor space attractive to restaurant guests through the winter.
  • Health and Safety: Restaurants have been able to maintain outdoor dining through the pandemic because of the safety that comes with reliable air flow. Any winter outdoor dining spaces should maintain air flow and social distancing.
  • Thoughtful Menu: An outdoor dining menu with warm drinks and hearty fare can help keep guests warm and comfortable. Bonus—double-down on the nostalgia of bonfire faves like hot cocoa and s’mores or warm cider, cocktails, and mulled wine.
  • Seamless Guest Experience: Use technology (like an online waitlist, and contactless payment) to streamline the guest experience from check-in to payment. These tools ensure that the guests’ time outside is value added for them—i.e. spent dining and enjoying rather than waiting.

Tools for Ensuring a Pleasant Outdoor Dining Experience

The right systems and tools can make the outdoor dining experience seamless for restaurant ops and guests.

Eliminate Friction

With the right technology, you can capture guests online from search (proven to increase covers 3-5%), social, or the restaurant website.*

  • An online reservation system makes it stress-free for guests to book an outdoor table
  • An online restaurant waitlist can reduce abandonment & help manage capacity
  • Prepaid reservations are proven to reduce no-shows

*Read tips for boosting your restaurant's online visibility

Rethink Payment Options

Payment options are not one-size fits all—the key here is to pick the tools that make for the best guest experience, and add ease and predictability for ops.

  • Contactless payment at the table
  • Prepaid reservations that include food and drink
  • Free events with snacks and drinks for sale, and a take-home meal station

Take Action with a Restaurant CRM

Actionable guest data makes design, promotion, follow-up, and refinement of outdoor dining experiences easy and impactful.

  • A restaurant CRM that tracks and analyzes guest data can help identify which outdoor experiences would attract valuable guests
  • Targeted email campaigns to engaged guest segments can boost outdoor dining sales. Guests that receive personalized emails are 32% more likely to return.
  • Restaurant Marketing Automation can trigger feedback requests after outdoor dining to build trust with the guest, and get crucial info to improve the experience

Creative Outdoor Dining Ideas

Here’s some outdoor dining inspiration to spark some ideas for your restaurant:

  • Redefine the Working Lunch: Extend WiFi to the parking lot and promote a parking lot business lunch — fast and car-friendly menu items to eat in the car while checking email or joining the latest zoom meeting (Panera is doing an interesting version of this.)
  • Partner with Local Farmers (who need the support, now more than ever): Feature special menu updates in your outdoor space based on winter produce. (Bonus: make the most of the partnership with a Restaurant CSA that partners meal kits with fresh produce.)
  • Family Dinner and a Movie Night: Turn the parking lot into a drive-in theater with a family friendly menu. (For a possibly quicker lift, and a built in audience, partner with local schools that have movie night licenses.)
  • Tempt the Beer Club: Promote an outdoor Winter Ale tasting or Oktoberfest event to Club Members, and build the club by promoting the event to lookalikes on social media.
  • COVID-Safe Holidays: Take a page from the local PTO and book reservations for outdoor “trick or treat” stations. Or get your inspiration from German Christmas markets and allow guests to book reservations with Santa—either way parents will be up for snacks and drinks.
  • Remember Book-It? Help out stressed parents by hosting an outdoor weekly kids enrichment activity/study time that includes a pre-ordered take home meal or on-site dinner.
  • Block Party: Partnering with other businesses on the block can be a great way to quickly uplift an event that actually gets feet on the streets. Think a Black Friday Event featuring a shopper fueling station for coffee and breakfast sandwiches (or cocktails and snacks).

Benefits of Year-Round Outdoor Dining

With the right tools and strategies, outdoor dining in all seasons can:

How can brands get the most out of a winter outdoor dining strategy? Target the right guests, adopt the right tools and systems, and track the impact on both sales and customer experience.

Photo Credit: Krisztina Papp