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Marketing Your Illinois Business

Tips for Maximizing Outdoor Dining Profitability

June 9, 2020

At the end of May, Governor J.B. Pritzker shared new guidelines for restaurants in his phased Restore Illinois plan. For now, restaurants are limited to outdoor dining and drinking, and only for parties of six people or less. Many restaurants are still learning how to deal with the added cost of complying with state guidelines and adjusting to these new protocols. So before opening your doors for open-air service, consider these points to help promote success of your outdoor eating endeavor.

Plan a Special Menu

Decide if your establishment is still going to offer carry-out or delivery while opening outdoor seating. In addition to these efforts, a patio or beer garden allows your establishment to accommodate more customers. However, your kitchen likely hasn’t increased to accommodate the additional output of these new enterprises. To address this, create a patio menu that makes meals possible for your back-of-house staff to handle this new influx of orders. Identify more profitable items and options that are easy to handle in the kitchen and can quickly and safely be transported to outdoor tables.

Check on Tech

Taking technology outdoors can present unique challenges. Make sure that electrical and POS components are enclosed so they can withstand weather exposure. In addition, you need to check your printers, screens and other hardware. Ensure your outdoor dining area has adequate bandwidth and signal strength to handle wireless demand. If your outdoor dining menu is different from the main menu, double check that it is properly programmed into the system.

Stock the Bar

While having an outdoor bar area may take away from social distancing seating, surveys have shown that alcohol profits go up when a table is outside. After spending months self-quarantining and social distancing, patrons are ready to spend some time outside sharing a drink with friends or family. Ensure your cocktail list includes summer favorites for patrons to enjoy on your outdoor space such as rosé, margaritas, or craft beers.

Clean, clean, clean!

Outdoor eating can prevent unique challenges for keeping a dining area clean. Bugs are attracted to sugars and sweets, which can make your outdoor bar especially susceptible to an invasion. Your staff should stay diligent with a cleaning routine when it comes to spilled drinks or ingredients. If that’s not enough, equip your bar with the proper bug zappers or sprays to rid your patio of bees, wasps, mosquitoes, and flies.

Cleaning location from COVID-19

In addition to preventing bugs and other unwanted guests, restaurants and bars must follow the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Outdoor Dining Guidelines. In part, the disinfecting/cleaning procedure requires establishments to abide by the following rules:

  • Cleaning and disinfecting of premises should be conducted in compliance with CDC protocols on a routine basis
  • Clean and disinfect common areas (e.g., restrooms, cafeterias) and surfaces which are touched by multiple people (e.g., entry/exit doorknobs, stair railings) frequently; every half hour recommended for high-traffic areas
  • Sanitization of multi-use items (e.g., menus, if reuse, special cards, pens, check presenters, etc.) should be completed after each use
  • Disinfect tables and chairs between parties and again at closing time (see EPA approved list of disinfectants)
  • Discard any single-use or paper articles (e.g., paper menus) after each use

If you plan it right, opening an existing patio area or starting a new one can bring in new customers and boost sales as businesses start to reopen and adjust to our new normal. Keeping your establishment and customers safe should always be of the utmost importance. In response to the guidelines put in place by the Governor, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity provided a Phase 3 business toolkit for bars and restaurants to help businesses prepare to reopen in a safe and compliant way. 

Maintain a healthy business during COVID with a continuity plan

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