An Inside Look at Outdoor Dining

Bar Louie, Uptown Minneapolis

What are consumer preferences for outdoor dining?

No one needs to convince Costanzo Astarita of outdoor dining’s value. At Baraonda, Astarita’s chic, yet casual eatery in midtown Atlanta, two al fresco dining areas—a 14-seat front area that faces the well-traveled Peachtree Street and a second, 30-seat spot tucked along the corner building’s side—help the 13-year-old restaurant drive business in a competitive restaurant market.

“As soon as spring comes around, our numbers head upward, and having our two patios allows us to capture more business than our competitors who don’t have the benefit of an outdoor dining space,” Astarita says.

Some nights, in fact, Astarita’s staff has more requests for outdoor tables than it can fulfill, some diners even bypassing available dining room tables and waiting north of 30 minutes for an outdoor seat.

By leveraging skyline views, waterfront vistas, sunsets, people watching, and more, outdoor dining can offer a sense of time, place, and wonder that even the most intriguing indoor spaces cannot. By bringing socialization outside and drawing positive attention to the establishment, outdoor spots can also add value to a restaurant by increasing the seating capacity and boosting revenue potential.

“When people see guests dining outside, it gives an energy to the place and reminds people of the hospitality they, too, can expect when they walk in our doors,” says Chris Devlin, senior vice president of new business development for Bar Louie, a casual bar and grill concept with more than 80 restaurants spread across 25 states.

To wit, Devlin points to one of the Bar Louie system’s most dynamic outdoor spaces: a 100-seat patio at Bar Louie’s uptown Minneapolis location that surrounds a shallow LED-lit pool.

“Minnesota isn’t exactly a place that jumps to mind when people think of outdoor dining, but here’s a restaurant that has used its unique outdoor dining space to be one of the top-performing units in our system,” Devlin says.

In January, FSR teamed with Study Hall Research, a Tampa, Florida–based market research firm, to conduct an exclusive nationwide survey of more than 3,200 adults with the expressed purpose of better understanding consumer perceptions regarding outdoor dining at full-service restaurants. The survey examined consumers’ outdoor dining habits, perceptions, and the factors that compel them to dine al fresco, which respondents largely defined as a space without walls or a fence but an umbrella at each table or a permanent roof.

The survey’s results, collected from 439 respondents, spotlight the key elements that guests seek in a positive outdoor dining experience, while simultaneously providing restaurateurs a deeper understanding of al fresco dining’s relevancy to their concept, its demographics, and market.


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