It’s hot out, you’re hungry, and you’ve just stumbled upon a patio where people are tipping back cold margaritas and soaking up the sun.
We’ve all been there: Despite knowing full well that the service on patios is often sub-par, we ask for a table outside.
In many parts of North America, patio season is fleeting. Which is all the more reason why diners have a ‘seize the day’ attitude about patios.
"Most Canadians can only enjoy outdoor dining for a few months out of the year, and summer is a very popular dining season for us as locals and tourists take advantage of our vibrant outdoor ambience, from the lush surroundings of Stanley Park to the charming elegance of Niagara-on-the-Lake,” says Bryan Huehn, OpenTable Country Manager for Canada, in the company’s last announcement of the Top 100 Best Outdoor Dining Restaurants in Canada.
And yet, let’s face it, most of the time patio service…sucks. You know it’s going to take forever to get a second drink, never mind order mains or ask for a ramekin of mayo. And yet everyone, even restaurant industry veterans, can’t resist a patio—the warmth of the sun on those cedar chairs, the breeze, the mojitos and the steaks that somehow just taste better outside on a laid-back afternoon with friends.
But what if the service on that patio—and your patio—were really, really good?
It is possible, but only with smart patio scheduling.
How to schedule smarter for the patio
1. Ahead of time: think about boosting your roster when snow is melting
Depending on the size of your patio or patios, the outdoor dining season can nearly double your usual capacity. But do you have double the servers lined up and ready to wait on all those extra guests?
To ensure you’ll have enough bodies on deck, start hiring long before it’s time take out the umbrellas and roll out the heaters. In addition to securing seasonal top talent just as the semester is winding up in colleges and universities, hiring to cover patio capacity ensures your new recruits will have enough training time to rock on those first flash patio days.
There are some great tips about building up bench strength in our post 5 Tips for Stress-free Holiday Scheduling.
Now that you’ve got a few stars at the ready and the forecast is consistently calling for patio weather, it’s important to schedule the patio with its two unique sittings in mind.
2. Lunch time: the ins and outs of patio scheduling for the noon-hour
Managers and staff love to hate weekday lunches. The restaurant gets flooded by 11:30 pm . It recedes just after 1 pm. In between, a very predictable number of tables will fill. During the summer months, that just so happens to be about the same time when the weather is heating up, and people are thinking ‘patio.’
What should you think about when you’re scheduling the patio for lunch?
The customer: The office worker who has exactly one hour to eat. That one hour on your patio is their paradise for good reason: the fresh air, that warm yellow orb above, the table that is not their desk, the new faces. There just so happens to be food.
Table turnarounds: Since the lunch crowd has to be back at their desks in an hour, they aren’t boozing or drawing out their stay. They order. They eat. They go. Generally, you’re looking at a 45-minute turnaround at lunch.
Server-table ratio: Since these guests are in and out, they tend to be lower maintenance, although they are on the clock and service needs to be snappy. Most servers can probably handle five to seven tables over lunch while maintaining your standards.
- Server assistants, food runners, call them what you will. In patio season, hiring and scheduling these employees for lunch will help you please guests who have just 50 minutes to spend in your restaurant. Patio scheduling at this time of day calls for a ‘team service’ approach where everyone digs in to get the lunch crowd out.
- Prepare, prepare, prepare. In its article 9 Tips to Set up or Improve Your Restaurant’s Patio, the Washington Restaurant Association says it’s critical that once you have staff on patio duty, to set them up for success.
“Make sure that both your front-of-house staff and kitchen staff are able to handle the extra covers that your patio may generate. Servers will have to walk a further distance to the kitchen to serve the patio, or may have to deal with stairs to a rooftop patio. Setting up bussing stations on the patio will make it easier for servers to refill water, or get extra napkins, cutlery, condiments and other requests. Service on the patio must also meet the high standards of service you offer inside your restaurant.”
3. Long Island time: patio scheduling for nights and weekends
You can guess why we say the joiners at these sittings are on ‘long island time.’
Patio shifts can be the most coveted for servers who want to be outdoors among this all-smiles ‘sure I’ll have another’ group. You just have to make sure your patio schedule makes it easy for them to do their job, and keep the long island crowd coming back.
The customer: At night and on the weekend, patio guests are often ladies who haven’t seen each other in a while, guys on their night out, couples out for dinner away from the kids. Let’s just say no one is looking at their phones to check the time.
Table turnarounds: Because everyone is off the clock and letting loose, turnaround times are longer—two or even three hours.
Server-table ratio: A good rule of thumb at night is three to five tables for each server since they’re apt to be busy getting round after round, orders for new joiners and bills for early-leavers.
- Extend the life your patio and keep your patio servers on the floor as well as boost summer profits by making it warmer with heaters or even blankets for the ladies when the sun goes down.
By ensuring your patio team has the right amount of tables, set up and support—and by going against the norm to deliver awesome patio service—your restaurant is likely to become one of those places people think of first for patio weather.
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