How to Add an Outdoor Patio to Your Restaurant
Every year as the temperatures rise, customers want to take advantage of the nice weather by eating outdoors. Such dining areas are so popular that many city tourism websites showcase restaurants with outdoor dining, allowing customers to easily find restaurants that allow them to eat out in the fresh air. Read on to learn how to draw customers in by taking your food outside.
Outdoor Seating Locations
Outdoor restaurant seating can be achieved in several ways, even in locations with little to no extra space around the building. If you do have room for a restaurant patio, it is a great option. These can work as free advertising if they are positioned where they are visible from the street, as happy customers and delicious-looking food can catch the eye of those walking by.
If you do not have enough space to accommodate a full patio, you may be able to add just a few tables on the sidewalk in front of your restaurant that can have a similar effect. Using the nearby sidewalk limits the number of tables you can add greatly, but this allows the restaurant to add outdoor dining for a minimal investment. Starting with a few tables on the sidewalk is also a great way to test the waters of outdoor dining before investing in a full patio remodel. Check with your local planning board to find out if sidewalk cafes are allowed where your business is, as some cities prohibit businesses from using sidewalk space on certain streets.1
If you have no space available around your restaurant, look up – is it possible to build a deck onto an upper floor or create a roof terrace? These novelty dining locations can not only allow customers to dine al fresco, it can also enhance their views if your restaurant is in a picturesque location, improving the dining experience and making your business a special-occasion destination. These options can be a larger investment than adding some outdoor restaurant furniture on the ground floor, but offer a great opportunity to create an attractive event space.
Follow the Rules
As with any major business change, there will be some red tape to navigate to ensure you are following all your local rules and regulations. Staying on the right side of the law can help ensure your outdoor eating area opens on time and doesn't cause your restaurant any legal trouble. If you are leasing your building, the first person you will need to speak to is the landlord. While he or she may balk at the potential for added liability, the increased property value that a patio or roof terrace can add may be persuasive. Because of the aforementioned increased liability, you will also need to speak to your insurance company to see if it offers patio coverage. If it does not, you may wish to shop around and decide if you want to change to one that does.2
Before you make any additions to your building or property, you will need to speak to your local zoning commission to see what permits you need to file for. If you are employing a contractor to help you with construction, they can point you in the right direction. Additionally, speak with the health department, as it will likely need to inspect the new space once it's constructed. There may also be a fee in your city for outdoor restaurant seating, especially if it is on a sidewalk.3 Your health department can also help you determine if allowing dogs or smoking on the patio is legal in your area. If you serve alcohol, you may also need to make sure your liquor license covers serving drinks outdoors.
Keep it Comfortable
One of the drawbacks of an outdoor eating area is that you and your customers will be subject to the whims of the weather. However, there are some steps you can take to help keep your customers comfortable outdoors. Umbrellas can help shield customers from harsh sunlight, providing shade on hot summer days. You could also go a step further and offer an awning or canopy to provide protection from rain. These can also be retractable to let customers enjoy the open sky when the weather is nice.
When the weather turns cold, patio heaters can help keep the area warm. These heaters are available in stand versions or in strips that are mounted to the wall, and both can put out an impressive amount of heat. Some restaurants even offer blankets and/or robes to help guests keep warm on cold nights.4
Furnishing the Outdoors
Outdoor restaurant furniture is made to be weather-resistant, with a variety of designs available to fit into any décor. Outdoor restaurant tables are available with solid or mesh tops, with or without an umbrella hole in the center. Some bases and tops are sold separately to allow you to put together the perfect table to meet your needs, with heights that can work for standard dining tables or pub tables.
Most outdoor chairs are made in slat or mesh designs, but some cushioned armchairs and couches are available if you want to provide a lounge-style area. If you have an outdoor bar or standing-height tables, outdoor bar stools are also available. Some other items you may want to consider for your outdoor dining area are:
- A portable bar allows you to bring drinks to your customers outside if you have an outdoor liquor license. It can also enable you to keep the drinks flowing inside if the weather precludes the use of your outdoor space. One of these can be especially profitable if you plan on offering your patio or terrace as an event space.
- Use sidewalk signs to advertise your outdoor seating, especially if the patio is not visible from the street or if you have a rooftop terrace. See our guide on using outdoor signs to get the best use out of your signs.
- Bug zappers can help keep the outdoor dining area free from pests.
- Investing in an air door for the doorway between the restaurant patio and indoors can keep insects from getting inside, and can also help stop air drafts as servers go in and out. In some states, these are required in any open door or window, including delivery doors and drive-through windows.5
- Sidewalk Cafes Prohibited. City of New York. Accessed June 2016.
- Get Permission for a Restaurant Patio. The Arizona Republic. Accessed June 2016.
- Outdoor Dining May Cost More. The Press of Atlantic City. Accessed June 2016.
- Outdoor Cafes. FSR Magazine. Accessed June 2016.
- California Plan Check Guide. Department of Environmental Health. Accessed June 2016.