Spring is officially here! For a lot of restaurants, that means the return of patio season and a surge in outdoor dining. Both Haven and Valenza restaurants in Atlanta are run by a team that’s responsible for two very busy patios. “We’re very much a seasonal restaurant,” says owner Michel Arnette. “Both of our patios are very popular as soon as the warm weather hits.”
In the kitchens, Chef Stephen Herman is in charge of a team that manages the increase in covers during the warmer months. “If I could wish for anything it would be a bigger cooler,” he jokes about the spring and summer. The warmer months mean updating the menu to reflect the fruits and vegetables that are coming into season. “We have really great producers and farmers that come in and bring us their great produce,” he says.
Below, Arnette and Herman share how they prepare for the busy patio season in the front and back of the house at Haven and Valenza.
1. Staffing is crucial. It sounds obvious, but a lot of restaurants don’t adequately staff for patio season. “You can’t run with the same five servers that you had in the winter months,” warns Arnette. Spreading servers and back waiters too thin can negatively impact the experience that your guests have. In the back of the house, the same rules apply. “We always make sure that we’re covered and our staff knows how busy we’re going to be going into the season,” Herman says.
2. If possible, share the patio among servers. It might seem easier to assign one server to the patio all night, but Arnette advises managers to reconsider. At both Haven and Valenza, every server gets tables inside and outside on the patio. “The problem with giving all of the patio tables to one person is that from 6 p.m. to close, everybody wants to sit outside,” he explains. By giving every server a table outside, it keeps the number of tables even among all of the servers.
3. Beware of burnout. “When it’s so busy you don’t have time to mess up. You’ve all got to be on,” Herman says of the back of the house. That means making sure you’re as prepared as possible for whatever may happen during service. “We do a lineup every day to go over everything before the night starts.” He has to delegate and make sure that his line cooks and sous chef can handle the load. Keeping his team rolling during the busy season also means calling out mistakes when he sees them so everyone can grow. The busy summer months can also mean burnout, Herman warns. “We sit down and talk to our people and see if they need time off,” he says. The busy season requires everyone on the team to push themselves but not to the point that they’re exhausted. “It’s all about balance.”
4. Shift expectations for seating times. Servers and line cooks aren’t the only roles that are going to be impacted. “Managers and hosts have to be hypersensitive to seatings inside and outside,” Arnette says. Outdoor tables may linger longer than indoor ones, and guests may be willing to pass on indoor tables to sit outside. Hosts and managers need to make sure they’re communicating. “Our guests are willing to wait 30-45 minutes longer for a patio table even if an indoor one is available,” Arnette says. “At the beginning of the patio season we have to regroup with our staff and make sure they’re prepared and focused.”
5. Bring your same standards outside. At Valenza and Haven, the same atmosphere that’s inside the restaurants is outside on the patio. That’s because Arnette and Herman work to make sure that food and service are on the same par for outdoor diners as they are for indoor diners. “It’s very important to me that the servers understand the dynamic out on the patio,” Arnette says. “Even though we’re outdoors the level of fine dining is the same, and just because we’re outside doesn’t mean it’s casual.”
6. Mind your patio appearance. That also includes investing in upkeep of your outdoor space. Beyond keeping an eye out for leaves and trash that may end up on the patio, you’ve got to ask yourself if outdoor diners are getting the same experience as the ones indoor, Arnette says. “The patio is an extension of our inside dining room and it’s got to be immaculate. You wouldn’t allow trash to be on the floors in the dining room so don’t allow it outside.”
7. Open with a celebration. Haven and Valenza invite guests to help kick off every patio season by with a live band, and a spread of dishes that celebrate the change in season, including a whole, roasted pig cooked by chef Herman. “There’s something kind of special about the party and about starting the season,” Arnette says. “It’s such a cool thing to step out there and see everything blooming and guests enjoying the atmosphere.”
Photos courtesy of Haven.