As summer is getting ready to heat up, restaurants and bars should be looking for ways to bring in the vibes, flavors, and cocktails of the season to entice patrons to cool off and wind down. That means sprucing up the place, making sure your staff is trained and ready to serve, and getting creative with your menu and cocktail offerings.

As you prepare for the season of fun and relaxation, you can start by figuring out what’s trending for 2019 and putting your restaurant’s personal spin on it. In the last couple of years, summer craft beers, rose and pinot noir were popular picks for summer sips. And, culinary-inspired cocktails, with fresh herbs and spicy touches, were the leading trend of 2018. If you serve a full menu or bar bites, incorporating seasonal, fresh, and lighter menu fare is always a smart idea in summer.

Beyond trends, though, bring some of these tried-and-true summer strategies to your bar and restaurant table and patrons will be thrilled to spend their summer nights with you.

1. Do some spring cleaning

When’s the last time you gave your kitchen a good, deep cleaning, and went through equipment to inspect items that need to be replaced? It’s easy to procrastinate, or let things fall by the wayside, but spring is the perfect time to deep clean the kitchen and all your equipment. That includes figuring out what is not working properly and making any replacements necessary.

Also, take the time to give the dining room a good scrub down. With the longer days and the sun shining in, you don’t want customers spotting dust bunnies or cobwebs in otherwise dark corners. As for the outside, spring is a good time to have the exterior power washed, especially if you’re in an area that had snow (and the rock salt mess that comes with it) over the winter.

Group Of Friends Enjoying Meal At Outdoor Restaurant

2. Get your outdoor space ready

Speaking of outdoors, if your restaurant or pub has space for al fresco dining and outdoor seating, you want to start moving on that now so it’s ready to go for the first wave of good weather. Check in on the furniture and see if anything needs replacing. Remember, outdoor furniture gets a lot more wear and tear than indoor furniture, so give it all a once over. You might need to replace outdoor lighting or buy additional dishes and linens as well. If a garden is part of your décor, you’ll want to clear out the weeds and lingering dead leaves.

3. Ramp up your staff as needed

If summer is a busy season for you, don’t wait until Memorial Day to look for hired help. If you have additional tables due to outdoor space, then you’ll need to be sure you have the staff to service those tables. If you’re an Upserve customer, examine last summer’s sales trends in your reporting data. This will help you anticipate how much your regular service increases, and start making plans to bring on additional staff. By allowing yourself enough time to hire good people and train them efficiently, you’ll be ready for busy summer nights.

Behind the bar, having knowledgeable staff members also leads to recommendations, and helps to make use of all of your materials. For example, a guest comes into the bar asking for Tito’s Vodka because it’s American made, and it’s gluten free. However, Deep Eddy Vodka also meets all of these characteristics.

Shake up your summer menu with help from our Smart Menu Builder.

4. Get creative with summer promotions

Competition is high on gorgeous summer evenings. Can you offer a promotion to convince someone to choose your restaurant? With the sun setting later, people are far more likely to go out for an after work drink than in the cold, dark winter. Think about offering a happy hour drink or appetizer special. Also, think about what’s going on in your neighborhood and plan some specials around those events. Are there outdoor movies on Thursday nights? Consider a pre-movie special. Are there any special neighborhood events that throughout the summer? Consider a free cocktail for anyone who attended that event to drive foot traffic and covers.

5. Update your menu

Finally, the fun part! Give your guests a reason to visit you, by updating your menu for the summer. Work with local farmers to add fresh summer produce and come up with some lighter and cooler dishes. Consider adding more snacks and small plates for the after-work drink or beer break. For the bar, bring in some summer wines to pair with your summer dishes and get some light summer beers on tap.

6. Shake up your cocktail menu

Unique summer cocktails are another great place to let your staff show their creativity and come up with something that can only be found at your restaurant. Having natural and fresh options are just as popular in the cocktail menu as on the dinner menu. This summer, think about offering some drinks made with fresh fruit, herbs, or extracts. The trick is to use ingredients you already have to make it cost effective. Infused flavored vodka is an easy place to start: some favorites for summer might include strawberry and basil or grapefruit ginger. This is an inexpensive and easy way to create a unique product that sets you apart.

Here’s another fun cocktail to try: “Summer Thyme.” Muddle blueberries in a glass, add a sprig of thyme, and cover that in ice. Then in a shaker, add lemon juice, a few blueberries, vodka, a splash of gomme syrup, and shake. Pour over ice, give it a little twist of lemon, and add another sprig of thyme.

When in doubt, you can’t go wrong with fruity sangrias, mojitos, mules, or spiked lemonades in the summer. Experimentation is key, and that’s half the fun! Whether you might have an old family recipe or a new way of looking at blended fruit, any specialty cocktail that seems fun and has a special twist is sure to catch anyone’s eye.

Follow the checklist above in late spring, and you’ll be ready to serve up some drinks and bites for a bustling summer crowd.

80% of a restaurant’s food sales come from only 16% of menu items. How do you know which ones? The perfect menu is just a click away with Upserve's Menu Builder.

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Dawn Papandrea is freelance writer based in New York. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including Family Circle, WomansDay.com, and more. She loves trying new restaurants with her family and friends in her spare time.