More outdoor patios from coast to coast
The legendary Rusty Pelican, which has been a fixture in Miami for more than 40 years, is so confident in its kitchen, customers at any one of its 118 outdoor seats can order the full menu. A complete renovation of the entire restaurant, including the outdoor patio, has brought new life to this old standard. But consider what customers see when they’re sitting on the patio: a magnificent view of Biscayne Bay and the Miami skyline, along with a constant parade of seaplanes, boats, dolphins and manatees. At night, before customers are seated under a canopy of strung white lights, they must walk past three decorative coolers where bottles of crisp white wine and rosés are perched in ice. It’s not uncommon to see a bottle of wine on every outdoor table, says the Pelican’s Michael Brennan.
If you really want to draw attention to your patio, and you don’t necessarily have the epic views of a Rusty Pelican, consider what Chicago’s Old Town Social does throughout the warm weather months—roast a whole suckling pig on a rotisserie grill in front of the restaurant. The sounds, the smells, the theatrics of the entire spectacle draw customers to the patio for a share of the pork.
Something similar happens at Moxie in Beachwood, OH. Every Friday night during the warm months, chef/owner Jonathan Bennett lines up several Weber grills in front of his restaurant and cooks the night’s special dish, which can range from langoustines to pork ribs. The idea behind it, he says, was to make contact with every guest who walks through the door. And for guests who sit on the adjacent patio, the sights, the sounds and the aromas coming off the grill are hard to resist. From the street, the festive commotion in front of the restaurant also can’t be ignored.
Not far away in neighboring Shaker Heights, Doug Katz at Fire Food & Drink grills right on his patio during lunch every Saturday. Each of his chefs comes up with a patio-friendly ethnic dish that any customer can order. But he’s taken it one step further by selling to-go orders to anyone who walks by the restaurant in this high-traffic area. Katz, who also has a tandoori oven on wheels, says he may even roll that out to the patio to cook Indian specials. Whatever cooking methods he employs, he’s creating a visual marketing event that’s driving incremental sales.
Suckling pigs on rotisseries and tandoori ovens are terrific, but you don’t have to go over the top to draw in customers. The Pub at Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco features a $10 bottomless mimosa special that’s available from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday. The only catch: Customers must purchase an entrée. The lure of inexpensive mimosas packs ’em in.
Proof in Washington, DC, offers a summertime promotion called “War of the Roses.” A rotating selection of rosé wines is available on the patio, with bottles priced at $35. It’s a perfect summer wine, priced perfectly.
At Brennan’s of Houston, customers on its courtyard patio who order an entrée at lunch can sip a 25-cent martini while sitting next to a fountain under the shade of oak trees. If you don’t think a 25-cent martini is a huge come-on, well then . . .
CHAYA Downtown in L.A. creates a Summer Japanese Beer Garden that serves Japanese beer and izakaya-style small plates from Monday through Friday. Part of the promotion also includes a chef grilling skewers on a yakitori grill. Originally, the promotion was held only on Mondays, but its popularity could not be contained to one day.
The Tavern at Lark Creek in Larkspur, CA, also employs a beer garden theme, but one that skews heavily toward the traditions of Germany and Austria. Patio customers sit under towering Redwood trees and are treated to an extensive selection of beers while live music entertains. They’ll also find Chef Aaron Wright there grilling classic German/Austrian fare, including mussels with garlic fries and crispy herb spaetzle.
The team at Campo in Reno is in the process of installing a Prosecco bar on its patio. They will be serving patio customers bellinis with housemade seasonal ingredients.
As in every case above, having an outdoor space is a huge plus for any restaurant operator. But in most parts of the country, an outdoor patio is open only part of the year, so do whatever you can to profit from every inch of space.