TRANSFORM YOUR OUTDOOR DINING SPACE INTO A WINTER WONDERLAND
Making the most out of your outdoor seating is so important for increasing your bar’s profitability. From developing seasonal pop-up concepts and creative serves to choosing the best heat source to keep your guests warm, here are ways to transform your outdoor dining area into a space that can be enjoyed all winter long.
The Vitality of Outdoor Seating
Globally, outdoor dining has made a great difference culturally and commercially for both owners and customers.
In the US, tech company Morning Consult’s July 2021 survey, reported that Americans continue to prefer outdoor dining over indoor dining, with 77% of U.S. adults saying they currently feel safe sitting down for a meal outside, compared to 69% who said so about indoor dining. That’s a gap of 8%, roughly the same difference reported through June, and a gap that very well might linger on throughout the colder months.
In Lithuania, for example, WeForum reports on restaurants and bars extending outside into plazas and on 18 streets being closed to allow for responsibility distanced socializing.
Making the Most of Your Outdoor Seating
This last year we have seen the potential of what using your outdoor space all year long can bring to a business from a revenue standpoint, but also how it can provide guests with a new way to interact with your bar or restaurant’s brand.
This winter, bars and restaurants will take their learnings from last year to amplify the potential of their outdoor spaces. Here are a few thought-starters for how to best use your outdoor space this season:
- Use your outdoor space to create a seasonal pop-up that’s a fresh take on your restaurant or bar’s concept. Instead of just having outdoor seating serve as additional table space, consider developing your own themed pop-up that lures guests to come experience a new part of your brand. This can be something playful and cheeky (e.g., North Pole themed, or Après Ski), and is an excellent way to utilize the space and gives guests a new reason to come and drink at your venue.
- Partner with some of your favorite bars and have them do rotating takeovers throughout the holiday season. This could give you the opportunity to collaborate with some of your favorite bar teams and have them bring a bit of their style to your space. Whether they come in and take-over the entire bar and build-out the outdoor space, or just focus on the outdoor drinking experience, this is a great way to build industry relationships and get guests excited about other bars that you and your team find impressive.
- Design your outdoor space to be an extension of the bar indoors. If your team doesn’t have the bandwidth to build-out a pop-up concept, there’s nothing wrong with creating an outdoor space that embraces the holiday season while keeping your brand’s identity. Consider warming touches such as custom blankets or bring your own blanket, and creative seating installations (i.e., cozy couches instead of stools or chairs), as well as heating options and service details (i.e. tableside alcohol infused hot chocolate service,
Bringing the Heat
The first thing to consider before developing your outdoor dining and drinking spaces is how you’re going to heat it. There are many considerations to make when selecting heating options, and many are dependent on the size of your space and its design, but, most importantly, you’ll want to make sure that you properly invest in your outdoor heating source as skimping will only be to your business’s detriment.
Popular heating types and their pros and cons
Gas (propane) heaters –
- These heaters come in all shapes and sizes; there really is a heater for every space and design
- All heaters are portable
- Not as environmentally friendly as electric heaters
- Unable to always focus heat where you’d like it to be
- Large gas heaters are also a bit bulkier and difficult to move around
Electric heaters –
- Come in many shapes and sizes, including wall-mounted, on a stand, as a fireplace, or as a parasol
- Able to turn them on and off when required, saving money when nobody is outside
- They use 85% less energy than gas patio heaters
- Smell and toxin free which is something to consider as gas heaters can occasionally give off an unwanted aroma
N.B. Always be sure to do your own research when looking at specific brands. Research is vital with this heat source as inefficient products can cost your business a bit of money if not monitored carefully. Be sure to do your homework!
Solid fuel heaters –
These include fire pits, log burners, and other heaters that burn pellets, wood, charcoal, and so on for heat.
- From an ambiance perspective, this type of heating source can create an almost camp-like fire experience.
- They tend to produce a lot of smoke which has a distinct smell and can be disruptive for guests who might struggle with asthma, etc.
It’s the least popular option of the three heating sources, but it’s one that has its place in the right setting.
Designing Your Cold Weather Cocktail Menu
As is the case with any menu design, balance is everything. Cold weather cocktails typically include an array of hot drinks, spirit-forward tipples, warming flavors (allspice, cinnamon, caramel, etc.), and aged spirits that appear in refreshing formats (whiskey highballs and sours, jungle birds, rum old fashioned, and so on).
For cutting edge bars that fully commit themselves to seasonality in the winter, you might even find pickles, ferments, preserves, and other alternative acids (read: verjus, vinegars, shrubs, acid solutions, acidified cordials, etc.) and ingredients that showcase out-of-season ingredients in a sustainable and seasonal way.
Of course, these culinary-focused ingredients are often featured in addition to the typical toddies, hot chocolates, Irish coffees, and other beloved cold-weather classics, but many bars are exploring new ways to innovate and excite their guests.
Depending on your bar or restaurant’s concept (whether you’re a classic cocktail bar, are inspired by a specific place or culture, or just have a unique approach to service and hospitality), or if you decide to move forward with a pop-up concept for the season, your menu will be expressive of what you’re all about.
Top Tips for Building an exciting food and beverage menu around the weather conditions
- Feature daily or weekly rotating drink specials
If you live in a region where weather conditions vary greatly, sometimes it’s best to resort to a specials menu for hyper-seasonal cocktail offerings. Play it safe on your seasonal menu with sours, spirit-forward cocktails, and highballs, and use the specials menu to feature hot drinks, prep-heavy serves with ferments (lacto-fermented plum sour), one-off fat-washes (for example, for a duck fat-washed whiskey sour serve leading up to Christmas), and other serves that may have ingredient limitations or are weather dependent.
- Get creative with food and cocktail combinations and deals.
1. A seasonal Tanqueray Dirty Martini with house pickle brine from pickled beets and pickled garnishes to pair
2. DIY s’mores dessert board with a Bailey’s Irish Coffee, which can be sold separately as a recommended pairing, or as a deal with a cheaper upcharge if you also add the cocktail.
3. A seasonal Johnnie Walker highball (made with an allspice-infused oolong tea syrup) combined with pecan pie
Try for yourself!
1 1/2 oz Johnnie Walker Black Label
1/2 oz amaro
3 oz hot black tea
Garnish with lemon (peel or wedge), cinnamon stick & grated nutmeg
Method: Build all ingredients in a warm teacup, and garnish to serve. Alternative seasonal option: Swap the honey syrup for an Allspice-Infused Oolong Tea Syrup – recipe below!
Allspice-Infused Oolong Tea Syrup:
25 oz oolong loose leaf tea
12 oz boiling water
Pinch allspice (crushed)
12 oz sugar
Method: In a saucepan, add the tea with the boiling water and allow it to brew for 8 to 10 minutes to make a concentrated tea. Fine strain the tea leaves from the tea, then add the tea to the saucepan with the sugar and allspice. Turn on the heat and bring the mixture to a light simmer. Stir until all the sugar has dissolved, then remove from heat and rest to let the allspice infuse further for 20 minutes. Then fine strain and bottle for up to 2-3 weeks.
Alcohol content: 0.8 fl oz per serve
Duck Fat Old Fashioned
1 1/2 oz duck fat-washed Bulleit Bourbon*
2 dashes aromatic bitters
1 bar spoon truffle honey syrup (2:1)
Garnish with expressed orange peel
Method: Build ingredients in a double rocks glass, then add one large cube. Stir in the glass until chilled and diluted, then garnish with an expressed orange peel.
Alcohol content: 0.9 fl oz per serve
- Your outdoor space is an important contributing factor to the profitability of your venue, even in winter
- Think about introducing a theme, or a pop-up to best utilize your outdoor space
- Consider how you are going to heat your outdoor space and what equipment you’ll need to do that
- Review your winter menu, incorporate some hot cocktails which will keep your guests warm outside
- Get creative with food and drinks combos, give your guests an exclusive experience that they can only get in winter