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Inside Out: Building your patio business with advice from Canadian experts


Building business through a patio means adhering to tried and true practices. Your patio operation is a long game that will pay off, not by jumping on the latest trends but by paying attention to the details and extending the quality of your inside business to your outdoor spaces. “Many operators say patios are a pain, but a patio can be the difference between making money and not making money. Ask yourself: how much can you do? How big an investment can you make? Plan it and do it,” says Kevin Murphy of Murphy Hospitality Group.

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“Patios can drive sales 10 to 15% alone if done right,” says Murphy. Our experts agree that opening and running a great patio can increase your business beyond your expectations. The larger the patio and the greater the initial financial investment, the longer it may take to see the return on your investment.

But the ROI will come. Design your patio carefully, use a consultant. Speak to your peers about their best practices, and invest well when it comes to implementing and furnishing your patio space. It’s the small details that will win return business, but it’s the oversights that can cost you business. Patios are an extension of everything you offer. They also permit an extended reach into your local community, so get involved and build a peer network in your patio neighbourhood. Get involved in your neighbourhood! Building local tourism in the warmer months is good for everyone’s business. Remember that the best patios have great curb appeal.


Smoking has been banned from indoor public spaces and workplaces in Canada for some time. While the laws around vaping are still being written, thus far vaping and e-cigarettes are similarly regulated under tobacco laws, and vaping is often banned wherever smoking is banned. Provisions vary by province or by municipality.

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Ambient music that reflects your theme, or live acts— music complements your outdoor environment! Plan regular events that your guests come to expect or themed music events. Keep it at a listenable level, not too loud, always remembering that the patio is a place for socializing and relaxing. Work with local artists. Embrace the concept of “eatertainment.” Kevin Murphy says that one of the best parts of his patio business is supporting local musicians. Crowds are drawn to great music, people linger and stop to listen and are exposed to your business in the process.


Design your outdoor set up for comfort, practicality, easy cleaning, and with nooks for groups, both big and small. Kevin and Kathy Murphy are partners in life and in business. Kathy Murphy’s expertise is in designing spaces that are comfortable, creative, complementary and practical. Spaces which allow easy movement for staff, comfortable dining and conversing by guests. Keep the patio fresh and stylish. Smart patio operators are always reinvesting in maintaining their aesthetics.

Look for sturdy, easy to keep clean, architecturally-interesting furniture made to withstand the elements. Look for local furniture-makers and keep telling the story of your region. People love a story and guests love taking owner- ship of favourite culinary and beverage spots—this is why we share our food items on Instagram. This is why we write great reviews and why we can’t wait to share a great local spot with our friends and with travellers alike.

“People are people watchers! You may be tempted to enclose the patio, but don’t block the view.” says Diane Chiasson of Chiasson Consultants.


Bugs pestering guests is bad for business. Yuck! There is nothing appetizing about dead bugs lying around.

  • Don’t be obnoxious! Using chemical pest management solutions can backfire; fumes and concerns about chemicals can be equally disagreeable to your guests.
  • Pests can jeopardize food safety, they are natural vectors for disease. Don’t maintain a bug buffet on your patio! Promptly remove all the things that bugs LOVE to eat on your patio: garbage, dirty plates, stand- ing water, spills and fallen food. Keeping your patio clean and clear is your best defence against bugs! Screen Shot 2017-04-26 at 9.41.37 AM


“Managers are the key. Great management should be built into the culture of your company. Our managers understand what one table means to them. Whether it’s outside or inside, it’s still the same dollar,” says Murphy. Smart operators rise to the occasion and must learn to balance the outside with the inside operations.

Know your diners and your location, and open your patio accordingly. Then designate staff to ensure that the quality of service you provide indoors is reflected outdoors. Wait staff should either be outdoor or in- door. Don’t share staff between the dining room and the patio if you can avoid it.

“Establish a reputation for customer service and attention to detail [on the patio as you do in the dining room] …In the restaurant and foodservice industry, the difference between great customer service and poor customer service can often be the single factor that drives people away for good,” says Chiasson.


Diane Chiasson has been consulting for North America’s leading restaurant, foodservice, hospitality and retail owners and operators for over 25 years. She has seen it all and she tells us that cleanliness is paramount.

  • Guests won’t forget a dirty patio. Wipe down your tables and chairs, clean your cushions, remove bird droppings and spills, and keep the ground swept. Your patio is a reflection of your values as an establishment.
  • An outdoor heating system can extend the life of your patio season by months.
  • Umbrellas that block sunlight (guests don’t like to melt on your patio in the afternoon sun), and provide shelterfrom rain are a must. Branded umbrellas may be provided to you by one of your beverage suppliers! Or consider investing in your own branded umbrellas—your brand visibility is always important.
  • Have ambient lighting which allows guests to read the menu, see one another and their food, but which is still pleasant.
  • Hire a local gardener to take charge of your plants daily because you’re probably too busy to do it. Otherwise find some beautiful faux plants to adorn your patio, but keep them clean. Murphy Hospitality Group has won awards for its beautiful flora, sourced locally and lovingly maintained by local gardeners. Murphy credits these patio gardens with being a huge draw and conversation piece for guests.


Learn to optimize your patio with our FREE webinar, May 30, 2017 at 2 pm EST.