When Ontario patios reopened in June, it was a much-needed boost for independent restaurant owners and a literal breath of fresh air for patrons. Getting out to a patio added some sense of normalcy during the pandemic and reinvigorated restaurants that struggled under the spring lockdown.
But with colder weather and various regions already in the midst of a second wave, there is a new fear of what the future will hold for independently owned restaurants that rely heavily on patio-goers and indoor dining.
There have been many mindset shifts in 2020, and we’d like to think that we are capable of being flexible and pivoting one more time to embrace the cold weather patio season. This is what will separate independent restaurants from the chain restaurants. If your local health unit allows, an outdoor winter patio season could be exactly what your business needs to help bridge the gap during the colder weather. Let’s take a look at one proven example: La Belle Province.
Canadians have been known to embrace the cold, and Quebec in particular is known for its wonderful winter activities. If you take a winter stroll in Old Montreal or Quebec City, you will find restaurants and terasses bustling with activity long into the colder months. While Quebec hot spots may look different this year, embracing their joie de vivre and the après-ski could see friendly faces and conversations at your establishment for weeks longer than you’d expect.
5 Winter Patio Tips
1. Add Warm Beverages to the Menu:
Create hot liquor drink specials for patio goers. Here is a list of popular warm drinks to consider for your independent restaurant that any visitor would be happy to try out.
2. Partner with a local coffee roaster to up your java game:
Supporting small local businesses while improving your selection of coffee will help to increase sales in an area you may have not considered before. Adding some fresh baked goods to compliment these drinks can bring in a new type of guest.
3. Outside Ambience
Patio Lights – String some white lights from patio posts to instantly create the ambiance of a winter wonderland ski chalet. They are cost effective and can make an instant change to the patio. It will also catch the attention of people driving by.
The Right Furniture – Find something that does not get cold easily or makes the customer feel colder while sitting for an extended period. Comfort and warmth is key for customers when spending time outside. Durability is also important so that your furniture investment can last for years to come.
A Cozy Fire – While outdoor patio heaters are in short supply, an enclosed fire pit could be a unique alternative to keep your customers warm. Ensure safety first— this type of change will have to be approved by your city or town, so make sure you check the local regulations here before implementing any changes to your outdoor patio.
4. Keeping Your Customers Warm:
Warm Blankets – Can’t find an outdoor heater or fire pit? Invest in some warm blankets for your customers. A set of ten will often do the trick, but you may need some extras so they can be washed in between patrons. Offer them to couples and tables as needed. It will allow people to spend extra time outdoors and is a nice touch for a cozy photo.
Hot Packs – A case of hot packs that you would use on the ski slopes or in a mitten is an inexpensive way to give your restaurant customers something warm to hold on to. It’s a nice gesture and will keep people outside for longer.
Heated Seat Cushions – There’s nothing better on a cold night than a toasty seat. Invest in heated seat cushions to increase the comfort of your restaurant’s outdoor space. They will make your customers stay outside for longer in the colder conditions.
5. Warm Winter Prix Fixe:
Offering a special price on starters will bring foot traffic into your restaurant. It doesn’t have to be a three course meal— rather, try a winter special under the same cozy theme as your decor, such as soup in a mug to warm their hands or spicy dishes to bring some extra heat.
For the foreseeable future, you are facing a new normal as a restaurant owner. It’s time to embrace the cold and make your outdoor (and indoor) space fun for all seasons. If your local health unit has directed take-out only, think of a winter special that you could offer to encourage customers to support local. You may be surprised by how successful your restaurant is this winter, so hold onto all of these ideas— you might just be recreating this cozy winter patio for your customers long after the pandemic is over.