Whether it’s to increase customer capacity, offer alternative dining options, or provide an outside space for smokers, embracing the growing trend for outdoor seating areas is a smart move for restauranteurs.
That said, placing a few tables and chairs out front on the sidewalk or out the back by the trashcans won’t cut it. Today’s outdoor restaurant ideas are innovative and considered, with many proprietors putting as much thought, time, and effort into cultivating their outdoor dining areas as they have done with their interiors. After all, outdoor restaurant decor needs to work with the elements while also serving as an extension of the restaurant’s aesthetic.
So, what kinds of outdoor seating ideas for restaurants should you be considering for your place’s outdoor space? Keep reading to find out the features and designs that your customers are sure to love.
Plan your Seating Layout
Before you even consider how to put these outdoor seating ideas for restaurants into place, you’ll need to plan your seating layout. But making the most of the outdoor space your restaurant has doesn’t mean cramming in as many tables and chairs as you can.
More tables outside won’t automatically make your restaurant better or more profitable. And especially not if you don’t consider the knock-on effect of extending your business in this way. For a start, you wouldn’t want extra seating to mean customers having to wait longer for their food because your staff can’t keep up with the extra demand.
And, even if your team can fit more tables into their workload, your outdoor space determines how many extra tables you can accommodate. Designing an inviting and comfortable outdoor dining space means planning a layout with plenty of room to maneuver between tables, easy access to the bathroom, and a clear path to the kitchen for waitstaff.
Use Commercial Quality Outdoor Furniture
With your seating plan in place, investing in quality outdoor restaurant furniture should be your top priority. Neither indoor restaurant furniture nor residential patio furniture will be suitable here. Instead, you’ll need to seek out furniture made from high-grade materials made especially for open air restaurants.
This kind of commercial outdoor furniture will withstand the harsh environmental elements and constant use. But it’s also designed for optimal comfort, low maintenance, and ease of cleaning. Outdoor seating ideas for restaurants include stackable options too, if space and storage are potential issues.
That said, the outdoor restaurant furniture you choose should also echo the kind of ambiance and decor you’ve chosen for your restaurant’s interior. For example, bright plastic or painted metal chairs and tables will work for a kitsch bakery and dessert place, but a more sophisticated restaurant might prefer wooden tables and chairs. Every material has certain pros and cons so it’s important to do your research and choose well.
Let There Be Light
One of the advantages of open air restaurants is that they’re full of natural light. But unless you plan to close your outdoor seating area when the sun sets, you’ll need some kind of after-hours outdoor lighting. This will create the right ambiance as well as a safe environment for both your staff and customers.
Because of this balancing act, your choice of lighting can often make or break your outdoor restaurant decor. Even the best outdoor seating ideas for restaurants will fall flat if you leave the lighting as an afterthought or make the wrong choice. Go too bright and your customers will feel like they’re dining out under the floodlights of the local sports stadium. But go too dim and it’ll be all too easy for your waitstaff or a customer to trip over a stray foot or a misplaced bag.
One way to overcome this is to opt for low sensor-activated lights around the outskirts of your dining area. These will enable customers and waitstaff to navigate the floor area with ease without anyone feeling overwhelmed by bright lights when they sit down. Alongside these safety lights, string lights, candles, lanterns, and other decorative lighting features arranged according to the seating plan will help add a soft glow and an attractive ambiance.
Consider the Climate
Unless your restaurant has a covered outdoor dining area, you’ll need to plan how to offer your customers shelter from the elements. In summer, the heat and glare of the sun make for an uncomfortable eating experience. And inevitable weather changes mean that every table should have the possibility of some form of awning, umbrella, or canopy on hand and easy for waitstaff to open.
Terrace awnings and retractable canopies work well for outdoor dining areas that are right outside your restaurant building while butterfly awnings can provide shade and shelter to any areas away from the building. That said, some establishments prefer individual patio umbrellas to give customers at each table the choice to add shade or not. Or, you might prefer extra-large umbrellas that cover several tables at once for a less crowded covered outdoor dining area.
Whatever form of shelter you choose for your restaurant, remember to take into account the kind of weather your area gets as well as how the sun falls in your outdoor space at different times of the day. These elements will determine everything from the positioning to the materials and design.
Decide on Your Pet Policy
Although the FDA prohibits restaurants in the US and Canada from allowing pets inside, more and more open air restaurants are allowing dogs to join their owners in outdoor seating areas.
With this in mind, it’s important to decide on your pet policy ahead of time. Being able to bring their furry friend along will be a big draw for dog owners. That said, others might prefer a pet-free dining experience.
For establishments with a large outdoor dining area, one of the more inclusive outdoor seating ideas for restaurants is to have a pet-friendly space and an area where pets aren’t allowed. And, for smaller patios and gardens, pet-friendly days or hours could be the best way to please both groups.
Above all, whatever pet policy you go for, make sure it’s easy for people to find out. Ways to help include briefing your staff, mentioning it on social media, and adding signs outside your restaurant.
Make Them Wait
One way to capitalize on a limited amount of outdoor space is to turn it into an attractive waiting area. This is particularly useful for restaurants that attract huge crowds on certain evenings or at certain times of the day.
Rather than forcing customers to wait on the street or squeeze in by the bar area, invite them to wait and enjoy a drink at the outdoor bar. Customers won’t end up getting impatient as they won’t feel like they’re waiting. Instead, they’ll enjoy and appreciate the inviting experience and welcoming atmosphere. What’s more, if the wait is a little longer than they anticipated, they’ll be more likely to stay since they’ve already settled in and ordered a drink.
Highlight the Outdoor Element
In the same way you’d decorate a stylish backyard dining area with plants and foliage, implementing these natural features in your outdoor restaurant decor is a simple yet effective way to add visual interest to your outdoor seating area.
As well as using plants as a kind of natural decor, they can also serve as dividers to add intimacy. What’s more, vines, potted flowers, and baskets hanging from pergolas and trelliswork can help block out direct sunlight while also adding pops of color.
You could even place lush foliage and miniature trees around the border of your patio as a way to create an open garden restaurant hidden from the outside view. This could be ideal if your restaurant borders a busy road or an unattractive building. Plus, the added privacy will be popular with customers while also arousing the curiosity of any passers-by.
Set the Mood
Plants and greenery aren’t the only way to liven up your outdoor restaurant decor. In the same way that you would use art and music to set the mood inside your establishment, these elements can help create a similar ambiance to an outdoor setting.
The music you play outside should reflect the kind of music you play for your indoor diners. This helps bring the two dining areas together, creating a congruence for all customers. Art might seem a little more difficult without four walls to hang paintings from. But if there’s a cement wall or an ugly wooden fence bordering your outdoor dining area, how about commissioning a local artist to paint a mural on the wall? This kind of feature wall will turn it from an eyesore into a talking point – and maybe even the next Instagram trend!
Invest in Outdoor Accessories
While shelter and shade can help make your diners’ experience more comfortable whatever the weather, there are other issues to consider when designing the perfect open garden restaurant.
For restaurants in hot and humid climates, misting fans and outdoor cooling systems can help provide extra relief from the heat. At the other end of the scale, heaters and a supply of cozy blankets can help extend the patio season beyond the summer months and keep customers warm on chilly nights.
Insect zappers, aromatic plants, and fans can help keep insects away from your guests and their food. And curtains or moveable planters can help add privacy if customers want to feel a little less exposed out in the open air.
It’s also worth considering your clientele and their specific needs. For example, if you do decide on a pet-friendly policy, dog owners are sure to appreciate you giving out fresh water in bowls to their four-legged friends. Or, if your restaurant is a popular stopping point for hikers or cyclists, consider extras like a bicycle rack or lockers for your outdoor space.
Try a Different Theme
Many open air restaurants follow the same theme as their indoor dining space. But there are plenty of others that allow their outdoor space to take their establishment in a new direction.
For example, if you’re turning a secluded backyard into an outdoor dining area, why not play on its features and create a secret garden with a romantic atmosphere and an air of exclusivity?
If it’s hidden out of view from other customers, this magical hideaway will soon gain a reputation of its own through word-of-mouth without you needing to give it too much publicity. Classical music, soft lighting, tables for two, and even a more exclusive menu made for sharing could all add to the secret, secluded feel. You never know, it might even turn into a cool celebrity hangout for stars who want to dine out away from the crowds.
In contrast, a large outdoor area could be ideal for encouraging big groups to gather. Combining both a covered outdoor dining area and an open area with optional shade is a great way to attract those celebrating birthdays, bachelor parties, and bachelorette parties. This would also allow you to maintain a more intimate, less noisy dining experience in the indoor area. Outside, long tables and benches could encourage a Oktoberfest-style ‘beer garden’ feel while you might even offer different foods to patrons such as burgers, finger foods, and snacks rather than full meals.
Inspiring Outdoor Restaurant Ideas
As these outdoor restaurant ideas show, there are lots of different factors to take into account when expanding your establishment’s dining experience to include the option of eating al fresco.
But, while some considerations are specific to the kind of restaurant you run, there are others – such as investing in high-quality commercial outdoor furniture – that are essential no matter what.
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