How to Optimize Your Restaurant’s Rooftop Seating

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has made nontraditional seating venues the new normal for restaurants. With indoor seating regulations in constant flux and many customers uncomfortable with too much proximity, restaurants have had to get creative to optimize outdoor seating—especially if they didn’t have an area cordoned off for such a thing before. When sidewalks, parking lots and alleyways just don’t work, more and more restaurants are moving upwards instead.

Why is rooftop seating the most coveted new trend? It’s easy to market, good for private events, and seems both exclusive and tasteful to guests. All this makes it a great method for increasing your overall revenue. Seating more guests never hurts. Before you can move to the rooftop, though, you’ll need to make sure you’re prepared for this new kind of outdoor seating.

Making the Change

Prepare the Area

You’ll need to have a good setup, not only to draw in the crowds but also to prepare for the challenges of outdoor dining. Weather, for example, can be a huge detriment to business, especially depending on where you live. Even the sunniest place in the country won’t always stay warm and dry; stock tables with umbrellas, coverings, and consider retractable awnings or screens to keep out the cold and wet. The more durable your furniture, the better prepared you’ll be to recover swiftly from inevitable inclement weather.

Be prepared for wind, too. Even in nice weather, it will be dominant so far from the ground. To avoid cushions and decor blowing away, anchor down everything you can and use cloth napkins to provide the most trouble-free customer experience possible.

Optimize Floor Space

Map out your floor plan so you have a good idea of what your rooftop can handle. Knowing how many tables and guests fit up there will make it easy to start accepting reservations and booking those tables. You might also want to rent out your rooftop for private events; in that case, you’ll need to know what small, mid-size and large gatherings should look like, how many people you can have there before you’re at capacity, and what the physical arrangements will look like so you can begin preparing packages for guests.

Have backup plans, too, for when things do go sideways because of rainstorms, cold spells or other unforeseen circumstances. You shouldn’t kick out guests mid-meal or have no alternative when a rooftop event has to stop. In an emergency, managers should contact all reservations and encourage guests to move it to a different night with a discount or promotion attached to the offer, and set up an indoor event space to use as backup if necessary.

Create a Welcoming Environment

A scenic overview can be a major selling point for the restaurant, but if you don’t have a nice view then you need to emphasize the positives. Do you have a beautiful skyline? Does the sunset look particularly nice? Optimize seating with the best views and decorate the sight lines that need some work. Don’t be afraid to show off: Take pictures and post them to your own social media to entice guests to come see for themselves. You should also post your social media handles on the wall, on the menu and in other visible locations so guests can tag you in their photos of their dinner or the view; not only is that free marketing to everyone on their feed, but it fosters better customer relationships and increases the likelihood of them becoming a loyal, repeat guest.

Even with a great view, decorate the bare spots of the rooftop to maximize the aesthetic appeal. Make the space welcoming with classic games, string lights, paintings or any other decoration that matches the rest of your brand.

Ensure Accessibility

Your rooftop might be an exclusive draw compared to other eateries in town, but it shouldn’t be hard to access. Stairways might be fine for some, but elderly and disabled patrons could have difficulty, so consider elevator access. Regardless you should make the way there clear with signage, include instructions in reservation confirmations, and detail the path in your marketing so guests are never lost wondering where to go.

Stock up

Unless you have a room for a second kitchen on the roof, your staff is going to have to go back and forth from downstairs to serve the guests up there. This presents a huge opportunity for spills and other accidents which cost you time, money and potentially customer satisfaction. Make sure you’re stocked up on everything you can leave up there: napkins, bar supplies, and extra silverware will help prevent wasted time going back and forth. The bartender should have all the necessary tools for mixing as well as a full supply of drinks so they never leave their station.

Get Licensed

You might assume that just because it’s taking place on top of your building means that all the usual rules and regulations apply, but that’s not the case at all. Moving outside means you need proper licensing; some onsite contracts and insurance policies will let you expand up there no trouble, but others require special applications, so make sure you’re squared away. Also check your city’s zoning regulations and licensing laws in case you need to get an exemption there too. Talk with your business’s lawyers to ensure you’re completely good to go before seating anybody up on the roof.

Open for Business

Now that you’ve got all your paperwork in place, your floor plan and decor are set, and you’re ready to market your rooftop seating area, you can begin taking reservations and allowing guests up on the roof.

The rest is in your hands: Do you want to hire some extra security for up there? Will you be setting up live music or other forms of entertainment? With the necessities out of the way, you can begin to make your rooftop seating unique and show off what makes your restaurant the best place around to dine out.

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