It’s usually wrong to generalize about what restaurant customers really want. Think of the many different ways people describe their favorite restaurant, and consider the myriad factors, both tangible and intangible, capable of attracting people who have much-different tastes. However, outdoor dining spaces seem to be universally well-liked at restaurants. Not having one—or not maximizing the appeal and utility of the one you already have—means you may be missing out on a big chunk of revenue. 

Here are four ways providing an attractive outdoor space and al fresco dining can turn a relatively minor investment into a major revenue boost for your operation.

1. Visibility and appeal

You likely put a lot of time and money into your restaurant’s marketing effort, making sure your brand is well-known in your community. It’s the right move to make, but there may be something missing. During the spring, summer and the beginning of autumn, good weather brings people outdoors. As a result, you could be drawing customers in (or chasing them away) based solely on how your restaurant looks from the outside. Depending on the location of your restaurant, some of your nearby competitors may be luring customers away simply by having more attractive restaurant fronts.

What to do? Take the outdoor appearance of your restaurant to the next level by having inviting, comfortable-looking options on the sidewalk or as part of a patio or deck. When it’s nice out, people want to be outside. If they haven’t already chosen their restaurant before they leave home, the look of your patio or sidewalk café will help draw them in.

2. Seeing is wanting

Take a tip from the way advertisers approach television commercials: Tap into customers’ inherent “groupthink” mentality and their fear of missing out on fun.  When individuals, couples or families are walking along and see others enjoying the outdoor space you’ve established at your restaurant, they will want to try it. People tend to follow others’ actions, and they’ll want to check out the latest establishment that seems to be generating some visible buzz. 

For these potential customers, seeing people enjoying your al fresco dining area works as a living commercial. Those walking by see the fun atmosphere and smell your food—experiences that can be extremely seductive. Passersby will be much more inclined to choose your restaurant for lunch or dinner that day, or perhaps to make a mental note to visit sometime in the future.

3. Work with the seasons

If you are lucky enough to get a few months of nice weather in your part of the country, take advantage of it. People want to be outside, especially if they’ve been stuck inside during the harsh winter months. Few things in this world are more relaxing than sharing an appetizer, a drink or two and a meal under a vibrant, warm sun.

Even if your restaurant is in a location that only enjoys a few months of true summer, there are ways you can stretch your al fresco dining experience into the cooler months. By the same token, you can deal with brutal heat to make the dog days of summer tolerable. Gas heaters and tents can aid in your fight against cold temperatures and light precipitation, as can outdoor fireplaces, torches and fire pits. Umbrellas, misters and fans can help cool off your patrons when the heat inches toward the top of the thermometer.

4. More seats, more bucks

An outdoor space, whether it’s a patio, deck or the sidewalk, gives you more seats without requiring a massive investment. When you can accommodate more customers, particularly during busy periods, revenues increase. Not only does your dining area get bigger; your loyal customers won’t be affected by any influx of new patrons. As a bonus, with more satisfied customers, your chances of successful word-of-mouth marketing instances increase.

The possibilities for your outdoor eating space are vast, limited only by your means and imagination. If you don’t have one yet, get in touch with the agency that controls your city’s outdoor dining permits to learn what the requirements are. Or perhaps meet with your landlord to figure out if a patio or deck might somehow be added to your restaurant’s location. Then consider what, if anything, you can do to maximize the look and feel of your outdoor dining space to best attract new customers.

Take advantage of the weather and of people’s desire to sit outdoors. With a well-planned and well-executed outdoor dining space, you can expect to increase your customer base and increase your revenue throughout spring, summer and fall.

Jeff Caldwell is brand manager of Skyspan Structures.