Patio season may be short in many places, but patio business is long on opportunity. Extra seating means additional sales and revenue, plus another way for diners to experience your operation.
Food is an important part of your guests’ al-fresco experience. While a patio-specific menu isn’t required—offering patio specials and emphasizing certain foods that experience can generate buzz and build sales. Small plates/sharing plates/appetizers—which are also on-trend overall in commercial foodservice—are ideally suited to service on the patio. With their quick turns and simple service requirements, they meet the needs of both warm-weather guests on the go and those who want to linger in the fresh air.
The desire for great food without formality drives the casualization trend—and patios are the perfect venue for casual dining. Millennials, especially, are the driving force behind this trend—they seek dining experiences that offer multiple flavors in multiple forms served in a fun, social atmosphere. Think bites, flights, shareable sides and batched beverages by the pitcher.
Technomic Inc. reports that seafood—especially scallops, oysters (hot and cold), smoked salmon and ceviche in flavourful preparations such as adobo, stone-ground, glazed, curried and pickled—lead the way on appetizer menus. Create a beachy, vacay experience by offering fresh and fun seafood handhelds and shareables. Examples: shareable seafood platters that offer everyone at the table choice and a bite of everything (e.g.,oysters, poached shrimp, crab legs, shucked clams, half a lobster, marinated mussels, cocktail sauce, mignonette sauce, lemon and herbed, melted butter}, seafood tacos (e.g., tuna with wasabi aïoli and mango salsa) and shrimp tostadas with citrus-cilantro cabbage and guacamole).
Not all shareables have to be small or in individual portions, but it does make sharing easier. It also offers diners the chance to try more items, which can build check averages. Examples: bacon-wrapped, blue-cheese stuffed dates; ramekins of hot or chilled soups, marinated mushrooms, etc.
According to Datassential, consumers increasingly say that high-quality/premium ingredients are important when choosing an appetizer. Menu incidence of premium cheeses (Taleggio, burrata fresh chevre, etc.) for example, is growing.
Veg-centric, vegetarian and vegan dishes are growing in popularity. According to 2016 MenuMonitor data from Technomic, mentions of “vegetarian” on Canadian menus grew 7.2% over the past two years and 24.5% over the past year. Mentions of “vegan” are up 29.6% and 16% over the same time frame. Embrace the opportunity by expanding veg-centric, vegetarian and vegan dishes on appetizer menus.
Wings, french fries, poppers and calamari are likely to always have a place on appetizer menus. However, Datassential reports that fast-growing in popularity are items such as lettuce wraps, ahi tuna as an ingredient, hummus, meatballs and flatbreads
Offer easily customizable options for small plates and appetizers. Flatbreads—naan, focaccia, lavash, pita, even pizza dough—provide ideal platforms for this. Offer build-your-own toppings options that let customers create custom sandwiches, individual “pizzas,” etc.
Use fresh, seasonal ingredients to complement the fresh-air dining experience. Give thought, too, to what diners crave during temperate weather. Lighten up on-trend ancient-grain salads and bowls, for example, by updating them with different spring and summer vegetables as they hit their peak of ripeness. For spring, incorporate asparagus, artichokes, barbecue chicken and fontina into small-plates, sharing-plates and appetizer menus. In summer, turn to pulled pork, zucchini, pepper Jack cheese, pineapple and coconut shrimp.
The bottom line? Menu food that complements and enhances the patio experience and there’s more than an outside chance you’ll satify guests and build sales.
Source: Technomic Inc.