Guide to Outdoor Dining for Restaurants

Please note that this article is intended for educational purposes only and should not be deemed to be or used as legal or health & safety advice. For guidance or advice specific to your business, consult with a qualified professional.

If you can equip your restaurant properly to provide outdoor eating, then you can increase capacity, generate more revenue, and provide an atmospheric option for your guests who like to dine al-fresco.

In this guide you’ll find out what you need to do to get your restaurant ready for outdoor dining season.

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Apply for outdoor dining permits

Before you can start serving food and drinks on the pavement outside your restaurant, you’ll need to apply for a pavement licence from your local authority. They are, after all, the ones who own the land.

Pavement licences had previously been granted for periods of up to two years. However, new legislation introduced in October 2023 aims to make these licences permanent.

Since 2020, the pavement licence application process has been made more streamlined to make it easier for restaurants to offer al-fresco dining to their customers. The amount payable depends on the local authority. However, application fees are capped at £500.

To apply you must state when and where you would place your furniture. You must ensure you are following social distancing guidelines and that your customers and seating will not be a nuisance to the public. If you are planning on serving alcohol, you’ll still need a separate licence to do so.

Preparing your outdoor dining space

Providing the council has not objected within 10 days, the permit is yours and you can start preparations. If this is the first time you’ve offered outside dining, you may need to buy appropriate furniture.

Plan how best to utilise your space and how you’ll lay out the seating, while bearing in mind social distancing measures. With these guidelines still in place, you’ll also need to consider one-way systems for people entering and leaving and queuing for toilets.

Consider how you want your outdoor experience to look. You don’t just want it to seem like you’ve thrown a few tables and chairs outside. Create a cosy and comfortable setting that looks welcoming by dotting around plants and decorations and featuring some atmospheric lighting – you’ll look professional and draw people in.

One large factor to bear in mind is the great British weather. This means you’ll need shelter and warmth to make people comfortable. Canopies and heaters are must-haves.

Set up contactless ordering

Contactless ordering is a fast and convenient way for customers to order and pay. This method has become extremely popular in recent years, especially among younger diners. Contactless ordering can help to reduce the pressure on service staff while also facilitating a healthy table turnover.

If you don’t already have contactless ordering in place, now’s the time to set it up:

  1. Select an integrated payment system – Square makes this process simple and effective. With our payment system offering, you’ll be up and running in no time.

  2. Choose your menu – Prepare a list of exactly what you’ll be serving up for your customers.

  3. Set up an online shop – With Square Online you can create and publish your menu quickly, and your site will work on any device. You’ll then be able to take payments from all major credit cards plus Apple Pay and Google Pay.

  4. Allow self-serve ordering – By placing QR codes on tables or parking spots, diners can scan them to open your menu, place their order and pay – all via their phone. This helps customers to get their order to the kitchen quickly and conveniently, without having to engage a member of staff or queue at the bar.

  5. Set-up contactless payments – With Square Payments, customers can tap their debit card against our contactless card readers or Square Terminal to make payments more safely.

Market your space

Customers have developed a real taste for outdoor dining, especially when the sun is out and the streets are bustling. However, the lower barriers to entry for pavement licences has increased the competition among restaurants.

If you aren’t actively promoting your offering, you may lose capricious customers to another eaterie. If you’re not sure where to begin, social media platforms are a great starting point. Set up a page on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and notch up likes, shares and retweets. Share regular updates about your restaurant and the measures you’re putting in place, as well as showcasing your great menu, of course. Set up or update a Google My Business page and email existing customers and let them know your plans.

Start taking bookings

Many of today’s diners will instinctively reach for their smartphones when looking for somewhere to eat out. Offering the facility to book online can give you a competitive edge while creating a more seamless user experience for hungry customers.

ResDiary Lite is a great solution for your booking system. It only takes a few minutes to set up and when ready you can manage appointments on the go via a smartphone app.

Or there’s Square for Restaurant’s OpenTable integration. Not only does it allow customers to check availability and book a table with ease, it sends them reminder texts to reduce the risk of no-shows.

You can use Square’s OpenTable integration to make good use of your outdoor space, too. Floorplans can be updated in an instant to include or exclude al-fresco seating areas, depending on how the weather’s looking that day. With all the information syncing seamlessly to your point of sale, there’s less chance of your front-of-house team forgetting about your outdoor diners.

The benefits of outdoor dining

Whether you are an established business that normally serves food indoors or have a great idea for a new al-fresco service, outdoor dining has a number of benefits that make it an appealing option:

  • Increased foot traffic – What could be a more compelling advertisement for your restaurant than the sight of happy customers? As passers-by see your guests about to tuck into their tasty meals outside, they may feel more inclined to enjoy some outdoor dining of their own.

  • A new revenue stream – If you normally focus on an indoor service, consider how much more revenue can be made by also offering outdoor dining spaces.

  • Extra seating – By offering additional seating outside, you increase the number of customers you can serve each day.

Outdoor dining is a great opportunity for established businesses to offer a whole new dining experience, enticing newcomers while providing something exciting for their faithful regulars.

Square can help you with logistics such as contactless payments and QR codes. And you can make your point-of-sale system quick and flexible with Square for Restaurants POS.

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