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Going Al Fresco: A Restaurateur's Guide to Outdoor Dining

Going Al Fresco: A Restaurateur's Guide to Outdoor Dining

Al fresco dining may provide a solution to thousands of hospitality businesses across the UK, allowing them to operate at as large a capacity as possible. This article serves as an introduction to al fresco dining — how you can implement it, what to consider and how to stay within the law.

As economies across the world reopen, business owners are facing an unprecedented set of challenges. The UK is no exception. Although exact dates are still uncertain, the British hospitality industry is set to start reopening between late June and early July. Whether you run a restaurant, cafe or pub, you’re going to have to think of ways to stay operational while maintaining a certain amount of social distance.

In this blog, we’ll cover:

Let’s dive in.

What does al fresco mean?

In Italian, al fresco literally means ‘in the cold,’ but is used in English to mean ‘outside’ or ‘in the open’. Ironically, al fresco has a more figurative sense in its native Italian, meaning ‘in prison’. If you tell an Italian waiter that you’d like to dine al fresco, you may get a funny look.

Al fresco dining has only recently caught on in the UK. Dining outdoors always seemed a hallmark of our more sun-kissed continental cousins. Our dreary weather, it was thought, had forever rendered us a nation of pub dwellers, less privy to lunch under a parasol in our local town square.

But that’s changed. The UK now has a thriving cafe culture, and alfresco dining spaces a common sight in many city centres. As businesses seek novel ways to stay operational during the summer months, al fresco dining may start to pop up in even more of our towns and cities.

Why go for alfresco dining?

Given the right conditions, people love to eat outside. According to Big Hospitality, 79% of UK diners would increase their dwell time in a restaurant if they could dine outdoors.

With the summer months upon us and temperatures rising, the desire to eat outdoors is getting stronger by the day. After months spent cooped up inside and abiding by lockdown restrictions, diners across the country are eager to get outside and enjoy their summer.

Pedestrianising streets in popular restaurant destinations could trigger a surge in al fresco dining across the country.

But pandemics aside, there are plenty of other reasons why you should offer al fresco dining. The practice of eating outside has been associated with multiple health benefits, including greater exposure to vitamin D. By opening up your back garden or front terrace space for al fresco dining, you’ll be offering guests something that they may have been craving for a while.  

What you should know about alfresco dining

There are many things to consider before adapting your restaurant space for al fresco dining.

  • Make sure you have the space for it. This space could either be outside your restaurant (possibly overspilling into a pedestrianised street) or making use of space already on your premises, a front or back garden or a car park.

    The space you select should be the kind guests want to sit in — it shouldn’t be near any unpleasant sights or smells, and should be spacious enough to keep customers and staff up to two metres apart at all times.
  • Consider how to design your alfresco dining area. Plants add colour, texture and homeliness to any dining area providing they’re properly looked after. However, be careful which plants you choose to place in your dining area; plants that attract insects or cause hay fever will drive customers away. Tasteful and cosy furniture is also a big factor in your guests al fresco enjoyment.
  • Have a well thought out floor plan that allows for efficient service and optimal guest satisfaction. Make sure that it is accurately reflected in your restaurant ePOS from which you can assign guests tables and keep track of tabs and orders. 

    For a truly attention-grabbing outdoor floor plan, consider hiring a professional architect or landscape designer. It may cost a fair few, but the difference it could make to your restaurant’s foot traffic may make it a worthy investment. 

Pavement license

Some local governments will require you to have a pavement license to place tables, chairs and other furniture on the pavement. Rules, restrictions and fees vary region to region.  

Certain restrictions apply on how big the furniture can be. You will also have to leave an amount of pavement space free for pedestrian traffic and clearly mark the borders of your outdoor seating area.

When applying you’ll need to supply a site plan and a public liability insurance certificate, and may be subject to fines if you fail to meet the requirement or fail to pay the license fee.

However, in a push to stimulate the UK hospitality sector, the government has announced plans to reduce approval time and remove fees for pavements licenses to make the process easier, helping businesses reopen and continue operations quickly.

Alfresco menu

When serving outside you may want to create a new menu and increase the diversity of your offering.  Talk with your chef about al fresco dishes, and even consider concepts like Tapas or Meze which are perfect for warm weather and promote a social style of dining.

Using an ePOS like Lightspeed Restaurant, you can add multiple menus to your system, and have them functioning at different times of day and in different parts of your restaurant.

This gives you control over who can order what, when – and not having multiple menus on at the same time. So, it may be possible to offer both indoor and outdoor dining at different times, or in parallel with a delivery or takeaway menu, without overwhelming your kitchen. 

Outdoor table service

Maintaining a positive customer experience in an outdoor setting is important. According to a poll by HospitalityGem, 48% of UK diners say slow or low-quality service puts them off eating outside.

Luckily, ePOS technology makes delivering table service al fresco much easier. With an iad ePOS system, waiting staff can send customer orders to the kitchen straight from the table. That way, employees no longer need to travel from the table to the waiting station to punch in an order for the kitchen. 

You can also add customer tabs which make it easier to keep track of guests orders. Happy guests sitting on a terrace on a sunny day may spend a lot more money if you give them the facility to do so. 

In an age of social distancing, more traditional payment methods like cash and chip-and-pin will likely go out the window. Introducing mobile-ordering solutions to your existing technology stack not only makes ordering and paying easier for both guests and employees, it also keeps them safe. According to mobile ordering integration Wi5, 57% of diners are more likely to order and pay at the table than before COVID-19.

This is partly due to awareness of the risks involved with physical contact in this time, but could also reflect the way consumers have gotten used to ordering their food. Ordering meals via an app was growing in popularity way before the pandemic. Now, the process will have become even more familiar during the lockdown where many diners relied on delivery apps to carry on patronising their favourite restaurants.   

Outdoor drinking

If your customer wants to eat outdoors, likely they’ll want to drink outdoors too. If you’re planning to start selling alcohol at your restaurant, make sure you’ve got the appropriate licenses to do so.

When including an outdoor area in your premises licence, you’re responsible for the consumption of alcohol in your al fresco dining areas as well as the rest of your establishment. Make sure you always ask for ID when uncertain, serve alcohol within the legal measurements and do your best prevent excessive drinking. 

Don’t fear the outdoors 

These strange times throw up a lot of uncertainty. But they also create opportunities to reinvent ourselves, to change our approach, to learn and grow. If you’re unsure about how to make your business work this summer, we hope this article provided some inspiration.

With today’s technology, restaurants, cafes and pubs can operate in ways they never have before. As hospitality businesses adapt to the new normal, so will the technology we use to smooth out our day-to-day tasks and grow customer bases.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the problems we currently face, but armed with information and the right technology we can at least take a step in the right direction.