Restaurants Greet the Spring with Outdoor Dining

People are eager to welcome spring—from the east coast to the west—and it’s showing in their dining preferences.  Restaurant owners can participate in this celebration in two key ways:

  • Offering an outdoor dining experience
  • Presenting new menu items geared towards spring.

Dining Outdoors

Open Tables Annual Winners for Great Outdoor Dinning advises “Don’t just dine out; dine outdoors!”  Open Tables’ Winners are based on more than 5 million restaurant reviews across all 50 states.  Some places have a breathtaking view, like Auberge du Soleil, are situated on 33 acres overlooking California’s Napa Valley.  At Red Hat Bistro in Irvington, New York, an old factory building was transformed into a French restaurant and provides 180 degree view of the river.  The Herald Extra reports on outdoor dining in Utah at the popular  Trelis Café at Thanksgiving Point which offers a light fare of soups, salads, sandwiches and a view of 55 acres of stunningly manicured gardens.

Is it necessary have breathtaking views and a large seating capacity to give people a venue to enjoy dining outdoors?

Even smaller spaces can have successful outdoor dining experiences if they’re strategically located.  FSR Magazine reported recently on Washington D.C. restaurants welcoming spring with outdoor dining. There were certainly a selection of larger venues (Jaleo Crystal City and the Oval Room with seating capacity for 40 to 50), but small ones made the list as well. Ardeo and Bardeo sports only 20 tables on the rooftop and has excellent American fare. French restaurant, Et Voila has an intimate 6 seat patio space for its spring diners. Timeout Magazine reported on Chicago’s outdoor dining option which also run the gamut from large venues (such as Tesori, seating 40 in a beautiful outdoor garden) to small ones  (like The Monarch with an intimate wicker hideaway and an herb garden).

Whether its rooftop patios, seasonal outdoor bar, or a sidewalk café, a standing room rooftop terrace wine bar, or an intimate outdoor patio seating for six, the success of your outdoor venue can be enhanced by preplanning.

  • Place your outdoor seating place where it can be easily seen by passersby, but also be sure it has a feeling of privacy. Outdoor diners can be like a billboard advertising your restaurant, but you don’t want your diners to feel like they’re on display.
  • Be sure the location is buffered from excess road noise or exhaust. Utilize architecturally designed elements (such as a trellis or a facade) or carefully placed trees, shrubs and flowers.
  • Define the space with outdoor curtains, plants, trellises, facades, and shrubs which give privacy, ambiance, and sound buffering.
  • Use sturdy wood or metal furniture rather than plastic.
  • Utilize lighting and outdoor heating options (depending on location) for evening diners.
  • Plan your seating around the sun’s position (north, south or east exposure is best) and plan for a place indoors that diners can retreat to when inclement weather crops up.

If you have a small or mid-size outdoor space for diners, consider setting it up for seasonal dining. If the space isn’t right you may want to consider another way you can help your diners greet spring—by offering new menu selections.

New Spring menu additions

National Restaurant News reports on new ingredients to offer in your spring menu that put a fresh twist on favorites. Serve mild French cheeses (such as Brie and Camembert) in sandwiches, on burgers, on snacks and on fruit trays.

Utilize fresh herbs for spring, especially mint (in cocktails, beverages, desserts and in spicy eastern dishes) cilantro and lemon thyme (great with Vietnamese food) and edible lavender.

Add wild mushrooms to your dishes.

Utilize fruits such as pear, acai berries, raspberries, elderberries, chokeberries, dewberries, huckleberries, and loganberries in drinks, salads and even in savory dishes.

Garnish dishes with edible flowers such as pansies, rose petals, violets, lavender, summer savory and mauve sylvestre, calendula or marigold, carnations, cilantro, clover, gladiolus, johnny jump ups, lilacs, and nasturtiums. Be sure to confirm you are selecting ones that are safe, and that they are either grown in house or purchased from a reputable source that doesn’t spray their plants. Only serve the petals, never the pistols and stems.

Offer specialty spring and summer drinks. Some favorites are: mango margaritas, strawberry basil margaritas, sangrias, blackberry manhattans, specialty liquors made with vodka, lemon, kumquats or berries, Chambord and pineapple juice, champagne with fresh berry puree and vodka. Develop your own seasonal list that is only offered in spring and summer.

Consumers enjoy a new experience when dining out. What better time of year to give something new than Spring?  What better way to celebrate Spring with them than an outdoor dining venue or seasonal menu offerings?

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