The restaurant industry is constantly evolving, responding to changing consumer tastes, social pressures, and new regulations. It is no wonder then that a recent survey by The National Restaurant Association found that 88 percent of adults feel that restaurants are an important part of their community. But the year 2020 forced restaurants to be even more adaptable, especially when it came to outdoor dining.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many restaurants had never even considered offering outdoor seating even though it has always been a profitable idea. According to research done by VSAG, by simply adding an outdoor patio, a restaurant could increase gross profits by up to 65%. After the pandemic began, indoor dining restrictions made outdoor dining space essential to restaurants’ success. In 2020 alone, 37 percent of restaurants adopted outdoor seating to expand their usable space. As the move outdoors becomes more permanent, smart restaurants will need to figure out how to turn what they might have once thought of as temporary structures into the best seats in the house. This is where technology will become invaluable to the restaurant’s success.
Creating More Comfortable Outdoor Dining Spaces
When eating outdoors, patrons want to be comfortable. A survey from Full Service Restaurant News and Study Hall Research found that weather was the most important consideration for customers when it comes to outdoor dining. A related item on their list was the appearance of an overheard covering.
Overheard coverings like awnings and pergolas are a perfect addition to any outdoor seating section. Adding a little technology to these overhead coverings is an even better way to ensure your diners stay comfortable. Permanent structures like smart pergolas also tell your diners that your outdoor space isn’t just an afterthought. You’ve put time and effort into making it a comfortable place to dine.
Tackle Seasonal Challenges
One of the hardest parts of outdoor dining is its inherent seasonality. Technology can make outdoor seating viable even during the colder months by creating outdoor comfort.
For example, even when it starts getting dark at 4 p.m. your outdoor space can be ready to transition from day to night. You can outfit your retractable awnings with dimmable LED lights, and then control these lights with the same remote you use to extend or retract your awning. You can (and should) also add heaters to the mix. Infrared heaters and heat lamps can keep your patrons warm, even when the temperature drops.
During the hot summer months, motorized awnings, pergolas and screens can easily come to the rescue to make outdoor dining more comfortable. While overhead coverings keep patrons cool, motorized screens can be a key element during mosquito season. With motorized screens, you can create a true indoor/outdoor dining environment where insects are uninvited to the meal, but fresh air can still pass through.
When the weather takes a sudden turn, smart sensors can also keep your customers comfortable. A sun sensor will automatically extend your awning at the right moment to ensure customers are safe from the harsh effects of the sun beating down. Rain sensors, meanwhile, will automatically close pergola louvers so that diners stay dry and can continue their outdoor dining experience without getting soaked. These sensors can also protect your investment by keeping motorized products safe from the elements.
If a restaurant has already embraced other smart technologies like lighting, HVAC and more, it’s simple to integrate smart outdoor shading products with third-party automation systems. This means the whole restaurant can be controlled from a single touchpoint, simplifying life for managers and owners.
With outdoor dining here to stay, smart shading technology can make it easy to create al fresco dining spaces that customers will want to return to again and again.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Yilmaz Ozturan is the President-CEO of Somfy North America, providing smart shading solutions for more than 50 years. Somfy works with a nationwide network of dealers and partners that provides motorized & smart awnings, pergolas, exterior screen shades, blinds, and more.