Design a Restaurant Patio to Create a Great Guest Experience

After a long winter, foodies everywhere look forward to the beautiful spring weather and patio season. For the restaurant industry, it is an opportunity to succeed in what could be a very busy and profitable season, as you are expanding your seating capacity outdoors and promoting new food and beverage menus. Like every aspect of your restaurant business, there is a strategy to designing a successful patio operation. Patios that become guest destinations all have a few things in common, as you can see from this TOP Toronto patios list by BlogTO.

The Fifteen Group’s Hospitality Consultant Stephen Hamelin shares, “I have opened patios as large as 130 seats and as small as 38.  Regardless of how large or small the establishment is, they still require the same details in the planning of four key elements.

Patio success requires proper planning of the following areas:
  1. Hire the right people.
  2. Take the time to create a great design.
  3. Proper menu planning and ordering.
  4. Create a memorable atmosphere.

1. Hire the right people

Most schedules can’t absorb the extra sections that are created when opening a patio, so you need to hire and train proactively.  In Canada that means having your schedule ready to open a patio as early as mid-March, so hiring and training should start in February so your team is adequately prepared for opening day.

A restaurant patio can be the most difficult place to work for servers, as it is the furthest away from the bar, the kitchen, and busing area. It also tends to be the busiest section especially on a hot sunny day, so its important to schedule the right people to work and manage the patio sections and guest experience.  Make it a point of differentiation on your schedule.


2. Take the time to create a great design

A great patio that becomes a destination spot for guests is more than just tables and chairs in an outdoor space.

The design and aesthetic of the patio space should include the following factors to increase its appeal:

  • Your patio needs to be clean from day one with foliage, plants and a privacy screen to create a welcoming space for guests. If you plan on staying open in the evenings, build in sufficient lighting that also helps to create a relaxing  vibe.
  • Be flexible with your patio seating arrangements.  This means square tables versus round.  You will need to push tables together to maximize your capacity and to easily accommodate larger groups.
  • Have your patio table numbers, seat numbers and sections decided and communicated to staff a minimum of one week prior to opening the patio.
  • Ensure all patio furniture have weathered the winter well and replace any damaged or discolored furniture before opening day.
  • Ensure your patio is highly visible to the street. Add signage to the front of the restaurant welcoming guests to the patio, if your patio is located in the back. It is crucial that the patio design follows all handicap access laws to ensure ease of access for any guests in wheelchairs.

A well planned restaurant patio design that provides adequate seating and great service can potentially increase revenue by 30% according to Jef Caldwell from Fast Casual .

3. Proper menu planning and ordering

Ensure your kitchen team and management are forecasting properly on food and beverage order guides to be prepared for the increased business.  It can get expensive placing emergency orders or sending staff out to buy product at retail price reactively, and you definitely want to avoid dealing with dissatisfied customers because your team did not order enough supplies.

Patio menus provide another opportunity to excite guests with new dishes and flavors from your kitchen. Typically spring or summer menus offer lighter fare, using fresh local ingredients wherever possible.  As well, because local is such a buzzword and our growing season in Canada is so short, use those ingredients to make dishes more appealing to guests looking for these items.

4. Create a memorable atmosphere

Decide well ahead what kind of atmosphere you want on your restaurant patio.  Is it quiet or loud, casual or high end?  These allow you to determine the type of music, plants, table set up and rules around group sizes on the patio.  Diane Chiasson from RestoBiz Canada places a significant emphasis on the atmosphere of the patio for a positive customer experience. An aligned vision with all management will mean a consistent vibe created with the entire management team for the entire summer.


Your patio experience is a great opportunity to drive new business, make sure it’s covered in all aspects for a great spring & summer season.

Expertise provided by Hospitality Consultant Stephen Hamelin.

For more insights, contact Stephen at

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