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Restaurants finding outside eating spaces can have big payoffs

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Kerri-Ann Sweeten, co-owner, Haven Riverfront Restaurant and Bar in Edgewater.
Kerri-Ann Sweeten, co-owner, Haven Riverfront Restaurant and Bar in Edgewater. - ()

If you think one of this winter's multiple snowstorms cost restaurant owners a day of revenue, think again.

And try three.

“When the weather is bad, you lose the day before snow because people are preparing; you lose the day of because people are stuck; and you lose the next day because they're shoveling out,” said Anthony Pucciarello, the chef and owner of Cielo Restaurant and Bar in Fairfield.

“If I do $10,000 on a Friday night, we were doing $3,000.”

Pucciarello, however, said his classic Italian-American restaurant was still able to break even — a feat many restaurants in the state are still struggling to achieve, industry experts say — because of some extra space. His year-round outdoor patio, with an active waterfall and seating for 65, was the reason why.

Pucciarello said the patio, which can be tented and heated, was the reason he purchased the property in 2012 — and the reason he managed to survive over Thanksgiving and Christmas, a time in which many other restaurants did poorly.

With the weather turning for the better in the summer, Pucciarello now expects to truly reap the benefits of having outdoor dining.

But like everything else in the industry, having an outdoor space is not as easy as it seems and success is not guaranteed.

Kirsten Tripodi, director of professional development and assistant professor at the International School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Fairleigh Dickenson University in Teaneck, said outdoor dining is a double-edged sword.

With more than 25 years of industry experience in restaurant management, service and training, Tripodi warns restaurant owners to consider the pros and cons before adding on outdoor space.

“The benefit is that you get to expand your space, and the more tables you have the more successful you are,” she said. “But the complication of it is that it's all weather-dependent.

“You also need to consider about how you will double your production and staff. You've got to produce twice as much food and have twice as many servers, bartenders and cooks on as usual.”

Sharon Sevrens was willing to take all this on for her business Amanti Vino, a Montclair wine boutique. The business features more than 900 worldly artisanal wines, as well as spirits, craft beers and a carefully curated selection of gourmet foods — but she knew she had to do something to help raise revenue in the summer.

Sevrens said August has been the quietest month since Amanti Vino opened in 2005. That all changed last summer when she purchased a sidewalk café permit to create Vinoteca, a wine bar along Amanti Vino's storefront on Church Street.

And all she had to do was put out some tables, chairs and corkscrews to see double-digit growth year after year since.

“Because I'm not a bar, I can't provide glassware,” Sevrens said. “People either bring their own glass or I sell plastic cups … but I don't charge a premium for people sitting outside, so it's still less expensive than going to a bar.”

Others are finding the same reaction.

“People just want to be outside,” said Kerri-Ann Sweeten, managing partner of Haven Riverfront Restaurant and Bar in Edgewater. “The outdoor area is the reason we took this space. If it was just this space without the patio, I'm not sure we would have done it.”

Haven Riverfront Restaurant and Bar, serving modern New American cuisine, has just started its first outdoor dining season after opening last October.

Sales are already up 10 percent in April and 20 percent in May, and they're anticipated to increase 50 percent for the rest of the summer, Sweeten said.

Located 20 feet from the Hudson River, Haven's outdoor terrace — which seats 72 — has become its main attraction.

“It's like adding on another restaurant in the spring and summer,” Sweeten said.

E-mail to: megf@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @megfry3

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