In the height of the summer season, the possibilities for attracting customers to your outdoor café space are limitless. But most outdoor cafés have an off-season. In Florida, for example, your café might be packed with snowbirds in the winter but far from bustling when they leave to fly North for the summer. In Los Angeles, where it’s usually still warm enough to dine outside in the winter, the slightly cooler weather can still put off the outdoor clientele.
Because of this, enticing people to your patio or outdoor space in the off-season takes a lot more creativity. But fear not: it can be done!
Below you’ll find some tips on getting customers into your outdoor café regardless of the season.
Understand Your Target Audience – And Court Them!
Too many restaurants make the mistake of trying to appeal to everyone, which can lead to a watered down concept that doesn’t excite any of the customers. The restaurants that are the most successful understand their audience and do everything they can to attract that demographic.
An outdoor café is a little more challenging because your target audience might change throughout the year. Being aware of this change and customizing your customer experience accordingly is the key to successfully attracting clientele year round.
It might be time to sit down and really figure out who you are hoping to attract during each season. Entrepreneur Magazine has some great tips on figuring out your target audience, from questioning which generational categories your place most appeals to—are you a millennial spot or a boomer hangout?—to the income, purchasing power and leisure activities of the people in your surrounding area.
After you’ve figured out the most likely audience for your café in each season, applying your research will help you figure out a plan to best cater to them. If you’re in a tourist town and need to attract locals in the off-season it might make sense to streamline the menu or lower prices.
But those aren’t the only options: there are many more creative ways to attract your off-season crowd that are less about money and more about the experience you create for customers in your outdoor space. Perhaps your winter months bring a younger clientele, and you need quick ideas to up the cool factor of your establishment. Maybe you need to refine your menu or change the ambiance to attract people with more purchasing power in the off-months.
The ideas that follow are all about using your outdoor areas creatively to excite your potential clientele, whatever their demographic.
Maximize Your Space
Whether you have a huge outdoor space or a tiny patio, maximizing what you’ve got will create the best outdoor experience for your clientele.
Big outdoor spaces are fun and expansive, but in the off-season arranging things a little differently might be required. If your off-season is especially hot, providing shade is an absolute necessity. The right furniture will help here, and investing in patio umbrellas can mean the difference between empty tables and a bustling space full of comfortable diners.
Another problem with large spaces in the off-season is customer perception – you don’t want too many empty tables persuading potential diners that your outdoor café isn’t the place to be. One way to resolve this is by having a combination of regular and folding café tables, which guarantees control over the space, and allows your staff to easily break down seating if you decide to use your large outdoor space for music, dancing, or any of the other fun ideas we’ll showcase below.
Even if your patio is tiny, creatively using and presenting the space will bring more customers in and keep them coming back in every season. Your first step is making the small patio look more dynamic and inviting. One way to do this is by using pub or café height tables – taller dining areas give the space more depth and visual interest.
Folding or stacking chairs are another good idea for smaller spaces, as they guarantee you only have as much seating as you need out at any given time. This helps prevent clutter and gives your clientele room to move.
It’s also really helpful to have some greenery or plant-life on your patio, even if the space is small. Adding some life to the patio can provide shade or privacy as necessary, and most importantly makes a small space more inviting.
Showcase Seasonal Favorites
It might feel like a bummer when the big crowds start to leave town or slow their eating out habits, but the changing seasons give restaurants and cafés a huge opportunity to attract clients with exciting menu items they simply couldn’t get certain times of the year. The idea of newness and scarcity is a huge draw—consider the Pumpkin Spice Latte, which people wait for all year! Capitalize on this during the off-season by adding seasonal items to your menu. Doing so could bring new diners in – and could turn those diners into loyal clients who wait patiently all year for their favorite dishes to appear.
Adding items with more exotic seasonal fruits and vegetables—maybe pomegranates in the fall or sunchokes in the winter—will spark the curiosity of passersby, while also giving you an excuse to reach out to your regular loyal customers through email and social media campaigns.
Entertain the Masses
Your outdoor space doesn’t have to mirror an indoor dining room – you can use patios and yards as unique entertainment spaces to bring in diners who might not normally know about your venue.
From a single singer-songwriter or violinist to a full on band, adding live music to your off-season event rotation can attract crowds who might just become regulars. Some studies have noted that loud music even increases drink consumption, so that’s a huge plus!
Understanding your clientele will help you pick the right music for your space. Finding the talent can be as easy as going to a few local shows, searching for local talent on social media, or even asking your most trusted clients for recommendations.
Before you book music, just make sure your license and insurance covers live music, and that your cafés’ neighbors won’t be bothered by the noise. Also, check about sound equipment (many bands can bring their own, as long as you have the space and electricity to accommodate them).
Using your space to showcase the work of local artists can be both beneficial to the community and also can draw friends, family and art lovers into your outdoor space. As long as you make sure the art is protected from the elements, using your space for art can be both fun and lucrative.
Outdoor Movies and TV Shows
If you have the space, renting or buying a projector to show a movie or television show in your outdoor space can get people coming back again and again. Showing a popular weekly television program will draw in fans who want to watch among friends, and movie nights outdoors are always a fun night out. (Providing enough folding chairs for your new movie-goers is important here, so make sure you’re stocked up.)
Indulge the Holiday Spirit
There are holidays every season – even your café’s off-season – so take advantage of the festive air they offer. MojoBistro offers great tips like holiday decorating, hosting holiday promotions, throwing parties – Fourth of July extravaganza, anyone?!—and sending your loyal clientele holiday greetings through mail, email or social media.
Taking advantage of fair-weather holidays can really increase traffic to your café. Foot traffic tends to be higher on holidays, so really celebrating the Fourth of July and Memorial Day in the summer and St. Patrick’s Day in the spring could be just what your outdoor café needs.
Increasing traffic to your restaurant in the off-season can be challenging, but a little thinking and a lot of creativity can make all the difference. The right furniture will add crucial customer comfort and offer a great first impression. Coupled with the right events and menu options, you’ll be drawing off-season crowds in no time.