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Running a Poolside Restaurant: 5 Need-to-Know Tips 

It seems like the perfect business model — serving up mixed drinks like Tom Cruise in “Cocktail” to poolside patrons for a living. However, there’s more to running a poolside restaurant than putting up a tiki hut and adorning your cups with tropical flowers. 

While every pool has its own rules of operation, you must consider additional health and safety compliance factors. A broken wine glass might be no big deal in a typical dining room where everyone wears shoes, but it can be a ticket to a lawsuit if you mix bare feet and water. 

However, with the right forethought, you can design a highly successful business plan. Here are five tips you need to know about running a poolside restaurant. 

Ensure You’re in Safety Compliance 

Your first step in running a poolside restaurant is to ensure you remain in safety compliance. You’ll face the typical run of food inspectors like any other establishment but must meet additional guidelines. For example, many jurisdictions require you to safeguard the swimming zone with a security fence and prohibit glass use within the pool area. 

Your entire facility must meet compliance standards or risk penalties, including closure. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend a free chlorine content of 1 part per million in your pool water. You’ll need to establish a routine maintenance schedule to test your water levels and perform everyday tasks like shocking the pool to restore chemical balance. 

Checklists are your friend in managing your enterprise. You’re going to need several, including the following.

1. Food Safety Checklist 

  • Are items stored correctly — no meats above veggies in the fridge? 
  • Do you maintain foods at adequate temperatures to prevent foodborne illnesses? This issue can become problematic if you serve items that aren’t stable at room temperature. Ensure your facility has sufficient space poolside for a refrigerator, ice chiller and possibly warming plates. 
  • Are counters and cooking surfaces clean and free of debris and pests? 

2. Facilities Checklist

  • Do you have an adequate enclosure to meet pool standards in your jurisdiction? 
  • Have you removed potential hazards that could trip guests? 
  • Do you have adequate non-skid surfaces, handrails and floatation devices to prevent drowning? 
  • Is the lifeguard service, or lack thereof, prominently posted? 

3. Health and Safety Checklist 

  • Have you kept all glass out of the poolside kitchen? 
  • Do you have adequate backup measures in place in case of a power failure? 
  • Are all staff trained in what to do in the event of storms or natural disasters that make facility use hazardous? 
  • Do you post pool rules and enforce consequences, like ousting violators? 

Keep Your Menu Small and Manageable 

If your poolside space is limited, your menu should be, too. This need-to-know tip is a solid rule of thumb for most restaurateurs — the more complicated your menu, the better the chances at least one of your chefs won’t nail each item the way your guests prefer. It pays to go for quality over quantity. 

So what should you include? In general, shelf-stable snacks present the least headaches, especially if they’re prepackaged in the original container — such as single-serve bags of chips. Don’t automatically shun such offerings as unworthy of your establishment. Some guests, such as those with food allergies, may even prefer them. 

You might have more flexibility if your kitchen operates in a different facility from the pool, as is the case at many hotels. In such settings, it’s a snap to send a server to snag the goodies from inside, keeping them at the perfect temperature. Otherwise, you need to outfit your cabana with a fridge, as there’s no thermostat to regulate the inside of a cooler. 

Include the Right Liquor Brands 

Let’s be honest — the bar is where most people running a poolside restaurant make money. You need to stock your shelves with the standard well favorites like vodka, tequila, rum, gin and whiskey. However, it also pays to create a signature cocktail or two that will keep guests coming back for a unique treat they can’t get elsewhere. Try summer-ready blends like the following: 

  • Citrus-jalapeno white sangria 
  • Strawberry-basil-balsamic daiquiri 
  • Watermelon and cucumber margaritas
  • Frozen peachy coladas 

What about brewskis? Is it worth it to invest in a tap, or should you keep bottles in a cooler? It depends, but on average, the right pour can net you a higher profit margin on the stuff with a full head, as the price-per-ounce cost is up to 45% lower. 

Create a Fun, Upbeat Atmosphere 

What makes running a poolside restaurant so unique? It’s the atmosphere. Your vibe should scream “fun in the sun.” 

Have plenty of safe entertainment and games at the ready. Do you have a sand pit? Ensure you have a volleyball net set up or string one across the pool and use an inflatable ball. Do you have other games available on-site? Classics like cornhole keep guests coming back — and fueling up on snacks and beverages.

Attract the Crowds 

You might get plenty of clientele from guest traffic if you run a poolside restaurant attached to the hotel. However, you can’t count on that referral source alone. Here are some marketing channels you might consider to spread the word about all you have to offer:

  • Search engines
  • Social media
  • Display advertising
  • Text messages

Running a Poolside Restaurant 

Running a poolside restaurant can seem like your dream career. However, as with any money-making endeavor, it entails hard work. You can use these tips for running a poolside restaurant to turn a profit and have a blast while doing so. Enjoy fun in the sun while making your guests smile!

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