Street Smarts

Street Smarts

Successful Sidewalk Café Society

People are clamoring to trade the drab film noir scenes of winter for the bright excitement out in the streets. Once again, those fortunate bistro and café operators with enough outdoor space to feature alfresco dining are spilling their wares out onto the sidewalks. Tables with striped umbrellas and hurricane lamps are filling up with patrons who want to see and be seen, observing society as they sip an aperitif. Laughter intermingles with soft jazz playing in the background. WAIT! Before we get too engrossed in this idyllic scene, we must remind ourselves that with the charm and allure of alfresco dining comes a healthy dose of reality. In other words, every picnic has a few ants.

With some precautionary planning and preparation, your outdoor dining season will prove to be pleasurable to your patrons and profitable to you.

Staffing

First and foremost, ensure that you have adequate staff to cover your expanded outdoor dining capacity. If a guest is underserved, you may lose a customer; and, if a server is overworked, you may lose an employee. Both are unnecessary. Assess the situation quickly. However, it is far better to have an extra pair of hands until you are able to safely gauge your peak traffic patterns than it is to have no hands on deck when they are desperately needed. During the hiring process, mention the possibility of outdoor responsibilities. Some applicants may have severe allergies or sun sensitivity.

Serving

The most expeditious delivery routes must be mapped out from kitchen and bar to outdoor tables so that hot food is delivered hot and cold drinks are still icy. It may be necessary to use insulated domes atop plates to maintain the proper temperature from kitchen to table. During peak times, extra staff may be necessary to handle the food delivery and table clearing responsibilities so that regular servers can concentrate on taking orders and delivering drinks in a timely manner.

Regulations

Ensure that you are in compliance with all state and local ordinances and regulations governing outdoor dining and the commercial use of public walkways and pavement. Laws vary from city to city and state to state. Some jurisdictions require an additional liquor license for outdoor consumption.

Sanitation

Special attention must be paid to sanitation in outdoor settings because there are many variables beyond your control. A sudden gust of wind, a passing animal, a litterbug can all wreak havoc on an otherwise enchanting setting. Your outdoor dining accommodations must be monitored and maintained as meticulously as indoors. Uneaten food, soiled plates, glassware and utensils should be removed as quickly as possible to eliminate bacteria and deter insects. Tables should be wiped clean between seatings. All of the housekeeping details, sanitation precautions and straightforward instructions that are used in your inside operation should be put into action at the start of each outdoor dining season. A key factor is to regularly review the plan with staff assigned to the outdoor venue so that they are aware of what is expected.

Insurance

It is worth a call to your insurance agency to determine whether your coverage is adequate for the added liability
of serving food out of doors.

Lighting

While you want to set a romantic mood to enhance the experience under the stars, make sure there is enough
light so that your patrons can see all obstacles to avoid a tripping hazard. There should also be enough light so that diners are able to read the menu. An option is to purchase menu light clips.

Heat Up and Cool Down

Evenings will still be chilly well into spring, so investing in a tower heater fueled with a propane tank is a splendid way to extend the outdoor dining scene on both ends. These warmer-uppers efficiently and effectively provide a cozy atmosphere for outdoor dining enthusiasts. For safety reasons, follow the manufacturer guidelines for operation and placement. Outdoor rectangular glass-sided gas fireplaces are a pricier alternative to tower heaters. They emit a lot of heat, are visible from all four sides and lend a magical ambiance to the night. They do require more space, however.

Consider purchasing several giant fans and/or misters to cool down those hot summer nights. The fans will serve double duty in discouraging flying insects from spoiling the fun.


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