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Increase Dining Appeal and Capacity with an Outdoor Restaurant Canopy

Outdoor seating carries a strong appeal for restaurant diners, particularly in the summer months. People love dining ‘al fresco’ in the open air when the sun is shining and the weather is warm, bringing with them a significant bump in profits. This can help restaurant managers as the food industry enters its “recession.”

outdoor restaurant canopy

Challenges Restaurants Face in Today’s Market

According to MarketWatch, a leading provider of stock, financial and business news, this recession is due to consumers cutting non-discretionary spending and eating out less, causing weak traffic for restaurants.

Moody’s Investors Service predicts an industry operating profit of 2-4% and expect fast-casual restaurants to outperform others. However, there are some fast-food chains, such as Chipotle Mexican Grill, that are still currently losing sales.

Another issue is that food prices are going down, while restaurant prices are staying the same. It’s now cheaper to prepare food, but living costs are going up, so consumers may not want to eat out. Instead, these savings on food may go toward paying higher rents, insurance or health care bills.

Restaurant owners now have to attract customers who are trying to save more money, while minimizing any increase in operating costs. They also have to compete with fast-casual restaurants, which are predicted to be the top dogs in this current market. Although it may seem counter productive, expanding your restaurant – specifically by adding outdoor seating – can help increase profits.

Outdoor Seating as a Solution

If your restaurant has an outdoor area suitable for dining, such as a deck, patio, or even a grassy lawn, you should consider the very substantial benefits of having a restaurant canopy. In fact, Simons Advisory Group found a $200,000 investment could lead to $500,000 in sales. This study forecasted seasonal use, so year-round use could potentially yield even more profits.

Outdoor seating is also becoming increasingly popular around the country, with more people wanting to dine outside. More restaurants are making outdoor seating available, for example, in New Orleans, outdoor seating is becoming more popular as the downtown area is developed.

When you increase your dining capacity, there’s more opportunity for profits and greater revenue. Outdoor seating can increase revenue by up to 30 percent, according to studies. The return on your investment can be substantial and quick!

For example, if your establishment averages $25 per person, adding 30 seats with an outdoor canopy could bring $18,750 additional monthly revenue in only 25 days. Even adding 10 extra seats to your restaurant could bring in more than $6,000 per month in additional revenue. That’s not even taking into account the additional revenue based on your restaurant’s average table turn rate!

Additional Revenue Possibility @ $25/seat

               Additional Seats Occupied (per day)
10 15 20 25 30
Days with new Restaurant Canopy 15 $3,750 $5,625 $7,500 $9,375 $11,250
16 $4,000 $6,000 $8,000 $10,000 $12,000
17 $4,250 $6,375 $8,500 $10,625 $12,750
18 $4,500 $6,750 $9,000 $11,250 $13,500
19 $4,750 $7,125 $9,500 $11,875 $14,250
20 $5,000 $7,500 $10,000 $12,500 $15,000
21 $5,250 $7,875 $10,500 $13,125 $15,750
22 $5,500 $8,250 $11,000 $13,750 $16,500
23 $5,750 $8,625 $11,500 $14,375 $17,250
24 $6,000 $9,000 $12,000 $15,000 $18,000
25 $6,250 $9,375 $12,500 $15,625 $18,750


Advantages to Having Outdoor Seating

Not only does a covered outdoor dining area quickly return on your investment in a canopy structure, but it can improve your guests’ experience better and more!

Types of Structures Used for Outdoor Shelter

There are a few different types of structures you can use to provide shelter for your outdoor dining space. The most common options are: pergolas, patio umbrellas, awnings, and canopies.


A pergola is a structure that has trelliswork on the top and is supported by columns or posts. They are often used in gardens, and have vines or plants hanging from them, but have also been used in outdoor dining areas. You can string lights and place them on your restaurant’s patio.

Pergolas do require some foundation work. You have to dig a hole for each post (it’s easier with an excavator) and set the frame to attach the overhead beams to. These structures can be assembled within a day and don’t have strict requirements, since they don’t support much weight.

Pergolas are a good option if you want to add decor to an existing patio. It’s better suited to warm locations with predictable, pleasant weather since it offers no real covering or insulation.

Patio Umbrella

Patio umbrellas provide shade and some protection from weather. They are made with weather resistant materials so that they last for a long time. They also are easy to set up, with no foundation requirements, and can include your restaurant logo.

Although patio umbrellas are easy to set up and have some customization options, they aren’t the best option for outdoor seating. This is because they are also limited to use in areas with pleasant weather like pergolas, or in other climates they can only be used seasonally. There is no protection from wind or insulation to keep people warm, so not all restaurants can use them.


An awning is a type of shelter attached to a building that extends over an outside space to provide protection. You can buy pre-made awnings and attach them to your building or have them custom made. Custom awnings would allow you to use your own color scheme and restaurant logo.

When building an awning you have a lot of options. The typical cost for an awning is an average of $1,264 – 3,500. Using metal framing can make an awning more sturdy, but you have less options with customization. Retractable awnings are another option, which helps protect it in the off-season or during bad weather days. You also could include side curtains to enclose the area.

Awnings are also better suited for pleasant weather climates because there is no insulation and can’t block wind if they don’t have curtains. In addition, some areas may have building requirements you must follow. For example, in Washington D.C. you need a permit to add an awning, which could add time to your project.


A canopy is usually a fabric or canvas covering that protects an outside area from the elements.  Restaurants can also use canopies for their outside dining area. Since canopies are often enclosed, they make a great option for restaurants with less agreeable weather. Canopies can either be pre-engineered and store bought or custom made from a manufacturer.

Considerations When Purchasing a Canopy

Restaurant canopies are available off-the-shelf at many big box stores for a more readily available and economical structure. However, some restaurant owners may want to consider custom canopies because of their unique design and longer-lasting investment.

You can build a custom-designed canopy with almost any form, size, and shape needed to fit your restaurant’s outdoor dining area. Manufacturers can even add special features like color and graphics, to either match or compliment your restaurant’s design and branding. As you compare off-the-shelf restaurant canopies with a custom-designed structure, consider:

Ideal Restaurant Canopy Materials

PVC and Polyethylene, the more affordable covering material options, are the most commonly used fabric materials for canopy manufacturers. Top-of-the-line restaurant canopies are made with highly engineered, composite polyvinyl chloride (PVC) fabric that covers an extremely durable framing system.

For example, some canopies are made with high-strength PVC fabric that covers either galvanized steel or anodized aluminum frames. Galvanized or coated metals use materials resistant to water to weather-proof and preserve them from rust. Builders can then use strong metals in their design to help it stand strong against the elements, such as steel.

Canopies such as these are built to last! When paired with expert design and engineering, these restaurant canopies withstand extreme weather conditions, from heavy snow to high winds. Some manufacturers even offer powder-coating for additional strength, or add-on insulation systems. This protects the tensioned fabric membrane against any R-value of thermal resistance.

Advantages of Portable Canopy Structures

From party tents to larger canopies big enough to serve as stage covers, manufacturers can offer restaurant owners numerous options. In addition to all of the benefits of restaurant canopies mentioned earlier in this guide, you should look for the following additional advantages of choosing a custom restaurant canopy:

While you’re limited to the structural space within your restaurant building itself, a tensioned fabric restaurant canopy offers more versatility. These canopies can serve as open-air gazebos and patio coverings, but can also be fitted with curtains, windows, doors and panels. These additions provide cozy, year-round dining space, protected from the elements.

With a custom restaurant canopy, there are more options for building a structure that’s uniquely suited to your restaurant’s needs. These options include custom size and form to fit your patio or deck area, as well as branded colors, special structural design features, add-on curtains and more. Some manufacturers can even add your logo and custom graphics, so your canopy can advertise in addition to providing space.

Custom canopies are also generally far stronger and more resilient than structures that you purchase off-the-shelf. While highly durable pre-engineered restaurant canopies exist, custom canopies can be made with stronger materials or upgraded with treatments for greater strength and longevity.

Do your research; some manufacturers specifically design their canopies to withstand heavy snow loads, high winds and extreme temperatures. In order to take advantage of the benefits of your restaurant canopy year-round, this added durability will be necessary. It will ensure reliable, secure coverage for your outdoor dining space if your restaurant is located in a harsher or more volatile climate.

Energy efficiency is another benefit of a custom-made canopy. Many manufacturers today are designing buildings made with eco-friendly, long-lasting materials to reflect UV rays and withstand extreme weather. This will keep energy bills down when you use your canopy in the winter months if it’s for use year-round.

Many custom restaurant canopies are still portable, despite being so strong and long-lasting. It’s a win-win, since these structures have more features and strength than off-the-shelf canopies but they still set up and ship easily. For restaurants who use their canopy seasonally, this kind of custom structure is ideal. You can easily pack it up and store it away for months you don’t need it or business slows down.

Other Design Strategies for Outdoor Seating

Here are some other tips to make sure you outdoor seating area is successful:

Don’t Neglect Other Market Trends

While adding an outdoor seating area will attract more customers and profit, you must be able to handle and retain the new traffic. It’s important to stay up-to-date with market trends to know what diners are looking for as you draw them in.

Technology will be an important tool in your restaurant business. More restaurants are using online ordering, kiosks, and even taking payments on mobile devices. It might be worth getting a Square Reader so customers can pay the bill right when you bring it to them. It makes the transaction go faster and diners don’t have to wait around for the check.

Another trend to watch for “concept” dining. More diners have dietary preferences and knowledge of food and want to know what ingredients are in their food. You may want to include a list of ingredients under menu items and have options for gluten-free and vegetarian diners.

By watching trends and incorporating outdoor seating, your restaurant should fare better as the industry faces the challenges associated with its recession.

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