Mar 18, 2015

In & Out

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By Ned Barker

Does your hotel offer bar or restaurant seating outdoors?

If so, are you getting the most you can out of it? Maximum sales and profits? High guest satisfaction? Outdoor restaurant and bar patios, terraces and decks are extremely popular. Yet they may represent a missed opportunity or two.

Of the restaurants that use OpenTable’s reservation service, 166 in Miami tout their outdoor seating and that doesn’t include bars. In Chicago, the number is 228, Indianapolis 30, and on and on.

Outdoor seating comes in all shapes and sizes. The Hyatt Palm Springs’ Hoodoo Restaurant & Bar is an independent F&B venue of the hotel, situated where the action is, at one of the city’s busiest intersections. In St. Pete Beach, Loews Don CeSar’s Sunset Bar features an outdoor ocean-view, beach-ward extension of their bar-restaurant. The historic Stephen F. Austin InterContinental Hotel on Austin’s popular 6th Street features a second floor terrace that wraps around from its Stephen F’s Bar to its conference area. Indianapolis’ Market Table offers an attractive outdoor dining option on a patio adjacent to the indoor restaurant.

So what is the allure of outdoor seating? Well, there’s “people watching” of course. And almost always fresh air. Often there’s a view (besides people watching). And an outdoor environment is, by its nature, welcoming and casual.

Sure, there are some downsides. Outdoor seating may come with too much or too little heat. In a few areas, the air could be filled with cigarette smoke or with gnats.

INandOut-2There are challenges for servers, too – getting through the doorway with a loaded tray may require the balance of a ballet dancer and the strength of a football player. Keeping the tables and “floors” clean requires additional vigilance.

The bottom line? The customer has spoken: We all know how often we pass a restaurant that’s packed outdoors while virtually empty inside. In short, demand is high. And what do hoteliers do when demand is high? No, I’m not recommending higher prices for those sitting outdoors. But hoteliers are generally pretty adept at maximizing revenue opportunities. Outdoor venues should not be an exception to these sound practices.

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Here are some thoughts about what a hotel might do.

: :    Consider branding your outdoor seating area. It’s easier to talk about something that has a name. This won’t be right for everyone, and there is a cost; but if it’s right for you, it opens the door to marketing, menuing and other opportunities.

: :    Even if you don’t brand the area, be sure to mention it in your marketing and social media endeavors, whenever you mention the bar or restaurant it’s “tied” to.

: :    Is your menu exactly the same, indoors and out? Think about a food or beverage item that will provide a special experience for your outdoor guests. For example, Victory Bar in Atlanta serves Jack & Coke Slushies from a slushy machine. These are high-margin, quick-service drinks that add a little fun to your outdoor venue. Last fall I enjoyed a Saturday afternoon in Las Vegas at Umami Burger in the new SLS – and was so surprised to see a frozen beer offering that I had to try it. Maybe you have a fire pit outdoors? If so add S’mores to your outdoor menu. Or put it on a promotional piece for your tabletops.

: :    Speaking of tabletop pieces, do you neglect this type of promotion because of the wind or other elements? Reprint your outdoor menus on throwaway paper – and weigh them down with interesting, eclectic, inexpensive tchotchkes purchased at a Cost Plus World Market, Toys R Us, Office Playground or wherever suits your fancy.

: :    How does your customer experience outside compare to the experience indoors? Do you deprive your outdoor guests of the entertainment, music or TV you show inside? Or do you offer them, but in an inferior format?

: :    Do you track your outdoor business, or just lump it in with the main eating or drinking area? Track the daily temperature and precipitation, covers and average check – and sunset time. This data will give you the information you need to make your outdoor venue even more popular.

: :    What else can you do with the space? Think out of the box. The Vintro Hotel & Kitchen in South Beach offers its rooftop for private dining during the day, and its Canal Terrace for daytime or evening events. The InterContinental Stephen F. Austin uses its second floor terrace for catering functions as well.