Business Resource Center

Making Your Business Outdoor-Friendly

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OpenTable reported a tenfold increase in outdoor seating requests during spring 2020 compared to the previous year

Outdoor dining

The ability to add outside seating to your restaurant or cafe will depend on your location. Many businesses find that they can convert an area of a sidewalk or parking lot with some tables, seating and umbrellas. Some cities even close a portion of the streets2 during the summer or waive the required permits3 to give its restaurants the ability to create an outdoor dining area.

If you are wondering what sort of boost you may see from outdoor dining, consider this: The online reservation provider OpenTable reported a tenfold increase in outdoor seating requests3 during spring 2020 compared to the previous year.

Sidewalk, parking lot, and tent sales

If your business is located in a downtown area, shopping center, or strip mall, coordinate with other merchants to organize an outdoor sale on the sidewalk or in the parking lot. To avoid the risk of the weather putting a literal damper on your plans, consider making it a tent sale. The large structure can call attention to your event as well as protect shoppers and your merchandise. On dry days, tents can also provide a welcome respite from the summer sun.

Open-air markets

Your region probably has events that accept retail vendors, such as fairs, festivals, farmers markets, or outdoor pop-up shops. Some are juried and restrict entrance based on the types of merchandise, such as only handmade products. Others may offer booths for local businesses. It can help to tie in your business to the type of event. For example, several cities hold Earth Day festivals in April. If you sell sustainable items, it could be a fit for your target market. You can find listings of events in your area on FairsandFestivals.net.4 Or follow your city's social media pages and watch for announcements.

Best practices

Once you find an outdoor venue, put some time into preparing for the sale. Instead of just setting out a table, which could look more like a yard sale, create an inviting display that attracts customers. Shelving can create a variety of heights and provide more space for merchandise. Add your branding, such as a sign with your logo. This article from Shopify5 can give you lots of inspiration. Or search Pinterest to get your creative juices flowing.

Be sure to choose the right inventory. Setting up shop on a sidewalk, parking lot, and tent is often tied to a sale, and customers may expect to find deals. You can use the opportunity to clear out slow-moving inventory. This can also be a good time to get rid of discounted sample, refurbished, or mildly damaged merchandise. Just be sure it's clearly labeled, and add a mix of regular merchandise, too.

You'll also need a way to process transactions on the go. Fifty-four percent of consumers prefer to use their debit card6 to make a purchase and 26% prefer credit cards, while just 14% prefer to use cash. Mobile payments, such as those made with a smartphone or smartwatch, are also growing in popularity.7 A mobile point of sale (POS) system can process credit, debt, and mobile payments wirelessly. If you don't already have a system, this article from Merchant Maverick8 can give you details on the best mobile POS providers. And don't forget to bring a secure method for collecting cash, such as a cash register or cash box that locks.

If you plan to use a POS system, be sure to test it before the event, and ask the coordinators if secure WiFi is available. If not, you might need to use your smartphone data, log into a hot spot, or accept payments with your POS system in an offline mode and submit and process them when you are able to access the internet.

Getting outside the four walls of your business can expose your products to additional foot traffic and attract customers who may not have found you otherwise. It can also help you interact with customers in a more casual setting. Bringing your business outdoors can help you see your opportunities in a new light literally. So make hay (and sales), while the sun shines. 

Important disclosure information

This content is general in nature and does not constitute legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment advice. You are encouraged to consult with competent legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment professionals based on your specific circumstances. We do not make any warranties as to accuracy or completeness of this information, do not endorse any third-party companies, products, or services described here, and take no liability for your use of this information.

  1. Zagat, The Results Of The Zagat Future Of Dining Study," accessed June 18, 2020. Back
  2. Michael Laris, Cities, including D.C, are closing streets to make way for restaurants and pedestrians," Washington Post, published May 29, 2020, accessed June 18, 2020. Back
  3. Jane Margolies, Dining in the Street? As Restaurants Reopen, Seating Moves Outdoors," New York Times, published June 16, 2020, accessed June 18, 2020. Back
  4. FairsandFestivals.net, accessed June 18, 2020. Back
  5. Karin Eldor, Turn Foot Traffic Into Sales With These Brilliant Market Booth Ideas," Shopify, published August 9, 2016, accessed June 18, 2020. Back
  6. TSYS, 2018 TSYS U.S. Consumer Payment Study," published April 2019, accessed June 18, 2020. Back
  7. Jasmine Enberg, "Global Mobile Payment Users 2019," eMarketer, published October 24, 2019, accessed June 20, 2020. Back
  8. Melissa Johnson, 5 Best Mobile POS Apps," Merchant Maverick, updated October 2, 2019, accessed June 18, 2020. Back