Patios aren’t just for summer. With heat lamps, cozy blankets and fireplaces or fire pits, restaurants can capitalize on additional seating any time of the year.

Dining al fresco “seems to make everything taste better,” says Tiffanie Hawkins, former Arizona Restaurant Association marketing and events manager. “Whatever the reason – cozy charm, spectacular views, the balmy air – [guests] instinctively realize that a good meal under the sky delivers life-is-good pleasure.”

Reap the benefits

Expanding the patio during a renovation “was the best decision we made,” says Ryan M. Prentiss, El Chorro general manager in Paradise Valley, Arizona. “People come to enjoy the weather and the views. We actually have a harder time seating guests in our lovely dining rooms.”

Here are a handful of tips for making the most of outdoor spaces:

  • Consider creating a refuge with a backyard garden or festive beer garden. Patios come in many varieties. If you’re in a scenic location, your patio might offer panoramic vistas of a waterfront or surrounding mountains. But outdoor dining doesn’t have to include picturesque views. Instead, it can offer solace from busy life.
  • Create an outside-only happy hour special, especially on hot days when customers are drawn to air conditioned interiors. A patio margarita special can entice your customers to al fresco dining.
  • If you don’t have a patio, consider testing sidewalk seating. “Sidewalk seating is ideal in older historic districts with distinct foot traffic,” Prentiss says.
  • Measure your target market’s reaction without committing to full renovations. Gauge whether your kitchen can manage the increased demand and waiters can handle the extra tables.
  • Just like your dining room, patios should be updated every five to seven years to be kept modern. If you are in an especially hot or humid location, consider implementing an outdoor cooling system or using large umbrellas to foster shade.