Ideas for Creating an Inviting Outdoor Dining Space

Whether you’re a restaurant owner who has decided to take your current outdoor dining area to the next level, or you’re just starting out and know that adding a patio space could skyrocket your restaurant’s popularity and profitability — we have some tips for you. From adhering to ADA and COVID-19 regulations to deciding on the perfect furniture and layout, here are some great ideas for creating an inviting outdoor dining space.

Research Outdoor Dining Laws and Regulations

First and foremost, your outdoor dining space needs to be up to code. Research your state’s and city’s outdoor dining laws to understand the guidelines for capacity, accessibility, and even parking regulations. You’ll also want to make sure your insurance offers patio coverage to take care of the potential for added liability and keep your mind at ease. Talk with zoning commission officials to determine if your city requires you to pay any fees for your outdoor dining space, and also read through your restaurant’s liquor license to see if it covers serving drinks outdoors. 

Because we are functioning in a pandemic, another thing to take into consideration is your local guidelines for social distancing and coronavirus safety. Position your tables or seats six feet away from other groups and know what 25% and 50% capacity looks like. Follow health regulations such as frequently disinfecting surfaces, providing single-use menus, and making sure your outdoor servers also wear protective masks.

Configure the Best Layout for Your Restaurant’s Outdoor Dining Area

Decide on a layout for your outdoor dining area and stick with it — since moving around chairs and tables constantly will not only take time and energy, but can confuse your servers who have to memorize the area. 

Think about whether you’d like to arrange for outdoor entertainment in the future, such as live music, open mics, or DJs. You’ll want to make sure an open space exists for these acts, with easy and safe access to a power source.

Do you want your patio to come off as a communal gathering space? Invest in large tables or benches that take up the area. Are you opting for more of a cafe vibe? Smaller tables that seat fewer scattered around will do the trick. Will your outdoor area be sit-down dining only, or do you want to encourage a casual atmosphere similar to a bar? Take all of these questions into consideration when configuring your area’s layout. 

[Related: Outdoor Restaurant Seating for Social Distancing and Reopening After COVID-19]

Add an Outdoor Bar to Your Restaurant

Adding an outdoor bar to your patio area can increase restaurant profitability as well as keep your customers from frequently going back and forth, or having to wait for their server to grab drinks. You can add additional bar seating as well to encourage people to visit your restaurant for a refreshment solo without taking up an entire table. If not a full bar, consider a smaller bar station for employees to serve and pour wine or beer on tap.

Covering Outdoor Dining Areas for Inclement Weather

Creating an outdoor space for your restaurant can be incredibly enjoyable, but if you’re located in an area with unpredictable weather, you’ll need to work a little harder to keep guests comfortable outside. On a hot and bright summer day, umbrellas can be used to shield restaurant-goers from harsh sunlight and provide some well-needed shade. These umbrellas can also offer light reprieve from bouts of rain — although a sturdy, durable tensioned fabric structure will do a lot more to offer further protection while still allowing your guests to enjoy their outdoor dining experience. 

Patio heaters or heat lamps in the form of stands or strips are also a wise investment if you’re located in an area that sees some chilly weather. Keeping your outdoor area open as frequently as you can throughout the year will not only look great to customers, but will end up being more profitable for your restaurant.

Choose One Type of Furniture

When choosing which type of outdoor furniture you’ll use on your patio, consider factors such as how easy it will be to clean, the comfort level, and of course, aesthetics.

  • Wooden picnic tables are great for seating small groups together and are cohesive to a casual, friendly atmosphere similar to a brewery or family restaurant.
  • Steel bistro chairs and tables are very easy to clean and move around, and can give off a chic, sophisticated cafe vibe.
  • Plastic furniture is the lightest and arguably easiest to clean — and as long as you choose high-quality, durable plastic, they won’t look cheap or thrown together.
  • Upholstered lounge chairs and sofas are wonderful for creating the atmosphere of a club, or a comfortable and relaxing getaway, but you’ll need to be prepared to protect them from the elements. Make sure the cushions and covers you add to your patio can be thrown in the wash or easily wiped down with a cloth and natural soap solution. 

[Related: Increase Dining Appeal and Capacity With an Outdoor Restaurant Canopy]

Ensure Accessibility for All

An essential step to take before unveiling your new outdoor patio to the world is to make sure the area is ADA-compliant and accessible to all. Research the required size of outdoor furniture and doorways, and avoid narrow pathways, uneven ground, and stairs. If your area has stairways that are unavoidable, you will need to build an ADA-approved ramp so that individuals who use wheelchairs can access the area.

Make Your Covered Outdoor Dining Area Visually Pleasing

Once the logistics are covered, making sure your outdoor dining area is easy on the eyes is very important. You want customers to be drawn to the area, and continue to spread the word to their friends and family about not only the food, but also the atmosphere. 

Some ideas for what you can add to your outdoor dining area include:

  • Flowers or potted plants
  • Candles on tabletops
  • Bistro lights
  • Fountain or portable water feature
  • Fireplace
  • Local art

If you’re on a journey to create a new outdoor dining area for your restaurant, we wish you the best of luck! WeatherPort Shelter Systems™ has worked with restaurant owners and managers for the past 50 years, and we’re very experienced in creating customized fabric structures to enhance all outdoor dining experiences. Our tensioned fabric structures offer unmatched durability and are a fantastic investment in your restaurant’s continued success. 

Contact us today to find out how a WeatherPort fabric structure can fit into your outdoor dining plan.

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