Guide to Outdoor Dining for Restaurants

Offering outdoor shopping and services during COVID-19

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.

The government’s roadmap for easing lockdown restrictions is going to plan. In April, restaurants, pubs and bars were given the green light to serve people outdoors.

With outdoor dining, restaurants can generate much-needed revenue once more and the risk of contracting COVID-19 is much lower outdoors. If you can equip your restaurant properly to more safely provide outdoor eating, then you can also reassure your staff it’s safer to return to work. And customers who are eager to return to some pre-pandemic normality will flock to your business.

In this guide you’ll find out what you need to do to get your restaurant back in business and taking advantage of al fresco dining.

Apply for outdoor dining permits

If the outside area you’re planning on using is owned by the council, you’ll need a pavement license. The process has been streamlined and made cheaper during the pandemic. Fees are set locally but capped at £100.

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 license 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 layout 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. Early spring in 2021 hasn’t been anywhere near as suitable for al fresco as 2020. This means you’ll need shelter and warmth to make people comfortable. Canopies and heaters are must-haves but if we’re blessed with warmer weather, you might want to avoid fans – they can increase the risk of spreading coronavirus.

Set-up contactless ordering

The pandemic has made contactless payments an essential aspect of making payments in person. They were already growing in popularity but now they’re here to stay.

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 make 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 – limiting in-person contact during the COVID era benefits everyone. By placing QR codes at tables or parking spots, diners can scan to open your menu, place their order and pay – all via their phone.

  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.

Train your staff

Before opening you need to know your staff are prepared. Take some time to get them up to speed on COVID-19 regulations to ensure that the working environment is safer for everyone on the premises.

Staff should also be prepared to answer customer questions. After all, people need to know it’s safer to eat at your restaurant. Make sure they can answer how the one-way system works, how to order more safely and where the general public needs to wear masks.

Market your space

The demand for al fresco eating, after a year of on-and-off lockdowns, will be sky-high. For consumers, it can be difficult to keep track of which businesses survived the past year, or to discover new ones.

So if you don’t already have social media accounts for your restaurant, now’s the time. Set up a page on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and notch up likes, shares, 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

The word is out and you can start taking bookings. In the age of COVID, bookings are all-important. People are getting used to the idea that planning ahead is essential for eating and drinking outside.

ResDiary Lite is the ideal 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. It’s a good plan to offer a select number of walk-ins too, especially at peak times, as it could increase demand.

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.

  • Safety – for any aspect of normal life to return in the era of COVID, this factor cannot be avoided. People need to feel their safety is being considered and by offering al fresco eating, you’re presenting a dining experience that is safer than eating indoors.

  • It can relieve customer anxiety – after a year of mainly dining at home, understandably some potential customers may be anxious and unsure about eating in public. By offering outdoor eating as an option, and by following government guidelines, you will put them at ease. And they’ll let others know they had a good time, spreading the word.

  • Your doors can open sooner – the government’s roadmap for leaving lockdown put outdoor dining on the cards a month earlier than indoor. Even if there aren’t any delays to the last few stages and indoor follows, you’ll have had the chance to establish your business and get a head start on the competition.

  • A new revenue stream – outdoor dining needn’t be a novelty that dies out when the pandemic ends. Many have welcomed the experience and hope that it’s permanent. If you normally focus on an indoor service, consider how much more revenue can be made by continuing to offer both indoor and outdoor spaces.

Outdoor dining is a great opportunity for established businesses to make their return. It’s also a chance to start a whole new service focused solely on al fresco eating. Look past COVID-19 and outdoor dining could be one of the unlikely benefits brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

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