It’s hard to overstate the destructive impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the restaurant business in 2020.
Industry studies suggest that more than 100,000 outlets may have permanently ceased trading.
And those that have survived have had to deal with enforced restrictions on their capacity, greatly reduced revenues, and new technological challenges.
But it hasn’t all been doom and gloom.
According to the National Restaurant Association, more than 80% of American adults say they’re looking forward to eating out more as lockdown restrictions are eased.
And more than 40% list restaurants as one of the first types of business they would like to visit when possible.
In this pent-up demand lies a great commercial opportunity for those outlets that are able to take advantage of the trends that the pandemic has accelerated.
And one of the most important of these is the increasing popularity of outdoor dining.
For many outlets, the provision of outdoor space for their customers was initially driven by the restrictions on indoor capacity. But as customers got used to the experience, they liked it more and more, particularly in the spring and summer months.
So the provision of a Mediterranean style “al fresco” ambiance can be an important element in enticing back customers who have become used to curbside pick-up, and carry out.
Fortunately, outdoor restaurant technology is developing rapidly to meet this demand. And it goes far beyond mere protection from the elements.
The first priority of outdoor customers, of course, is to be protected from the weather and to enjoy a comfortable environment.
No one wants to spend much time eating outside if it’s too hot or too cold; or if they’re being rained on or plagued by biting insects. And the last thing you or your staff need during a busy session is to have to rush to hand crank into place a screen, awning, or canopy.
But many of these are now motorized, remotely controlled, and can be deployed at the touch of a button when you or your customers require.
Outdoor heaters and fans have of course been in use for many years to mitigate the vagaries of the climate. And they’re still effective.
But the installation of modern and invisible “air curtains” can provide your patrons with a whole new level of protection from extreme temperatures, insects, and even vehicle emissions.
Basic physical comfort, however, is the least that your customers will demand.
As businesses try to recover from the pandemic, competition will be intense. Many diners remain concerned about COVID-19 and have become used to carry out and curbside pick-up options. To tempt them to dine in-house – even if out of doors – it will be imperative to offer an enticing and memorable experience.
One of the simplest, yet surprisingly complex, ways to do this is through the creative use of outdoor lighting.
Obviously, nobody wants to sit in the dark, unable to see the beautifully presented food your chefs have prepared.
But nor do they want to be blasted by the harsh and unflattering neon that they probably have to endure every day of their working lives.
Softer, colored lights, on the other hand, visible from the road and curb, will attract customers to patios or dining decks.
Pergolas, roofs, and awnings, whether temporary or permanent, can also be attractively lit to create an ambiance that will keep customers lingering to purchase more drinks, desserts, and coffees.
Modern restaurant lighting technology allows for the instant adjustment of brightness and color in different outdoor areas, to accommodate the different mood requirements of particular sessions and events.
The bottom line is that with the imaginative use of even a few of the above technologies, it should be possible to transform even the most apparently unpromising of outdoor spaces into a beguiling oasis that will keep your customers coming back again and again.