Whether you're a casual tapas bar or a fancy French bistro, there's no denying that outdoor seating takes your ambiance up several notches. To dine in the fresh air beneath the setting sun is a prospect that appeals to people of all ages, and is a timeless setting for a romantic meal. Adding an outdoor seating area to your restaurant, therefore, is guaranteed to attract more diners and encourage them to stay longer.
There are several ways to design your seating area in a manner that reflects the general theme of your restaurant and also enhances the comfort of your diners. Space doesn't have to be a constraint either – by keeping the following best practices in mind, you can make optimal use of even a small outdoor space to create an experience that your customers will love.
Build your seating around a theme
Your outdoor seating needs to convey the essence of what your restaurant offers to its guests. Choose wooden benches and long tables for a rustic feel, brightly colored chairs and tablecloths for a family restaurant and umbrella-topped tables with wicker chairs for a European café vibe.
Going for a classic Italian theme? Feature open gazebos with hanging artificial ferns for that Old World dining feel. Want to create the perfect romantic ambiance? Feature individual cabanas amidst a lush garden of faux outdoor plants.
Your diners should see what your restaurant is all about the moment they enter – and creatively planned seating can do just that.
Choose durable furniture and décor
Outdoor seating is exposed to the elements all day, which means that you need to choose furniture that can withstand the sun and the rain. Ensure that all wooden furniture is water-resistant and that all table linen, umbrellas, and draperies are fade-proof and wrinkle-proof. Any vases, centerpieces or other decorations also need to be sturdy enough for outdoor exposure.
Faux flowers and plants work particularly well in this regard. Top-quality artificial greenery comes with UV protection to guard against the sun, so they stay bright and shiny no matter how merciless the weather is. On top of that, there is no risk of bug infestation or diseases like blight.
Space out your tables
Nothing is quite as off-putting to a potential customer as an overcrowded dining area. Keep your tables far enough apart to ensure that every diner has a reasonable amount of privacy. Boxwood hedges are a great way to divide your seating area into partitions.
At the same time, if you want larger groups to sit and enjoy themselves, you can have long benches that can be drawn up and placed together to accommodate more people. You can also have separate bar tables with stools for guests to mingle.
Add touches of greenery
A patch of green amidst a concrete setting is always soothing on the eye, and greenery is indispensable particularly when you're designing an outdoor seating area. Faux outdoor trees are a great option as they're weather-proof, require little maintenance and are available in every possible variety.
Choose greenery that matches the ambiance of your restaurant. For instance, if you're opting for a garden-like feel, add some artificial topiary here and there for a whimsical touch. If you're going for a rooftop bistro, on the other hand, you can create living walls with artificial boxwood.
Ensure there is a shelter in case of rain
While dining beneath the stars is delightful during clement weather, it's not much fun when it's raining. It is essential, therefore, that you have some provision for when there's a downpour – particularly if you don't have an indoor section.
One of the best ways to protect your dining tables is by having umbrellas on each table that can be put up at a moment's notice. If this isn't feasible for your restaurant, consider keeping makeshift marquees on hand that can provide shelter to several of your tables at one go. Once your restaurant is closed for the night, moreover, keep your furniture covered with tarpaulin sheets to protect them.
Choose appropriate lighting
The right lighting can make or break any public setting, and it's particularly true for outdoor restaurants when you have natural light to contend with. During the day you can make the most of the sunlight, but as evening approaches you will have to make the transition from natural to artificial light in a smooth manner.
For instance, as the sun starts setting, you can place individual lamps or candles in appropriate holders on each table so that your evening patrons have enough visibility. You can also add some boxwood hedges with string lights for a subtle yet attractive touch. As the evening wears on and it gets darker, you can switch on some hanging lights overhead or add some light panels to the walls. Keep the intensity bright but not harsh – the lighting should always complement the relaxed setting of your restaurant!
Make optimal use of signage
Regardless of how pretty your seating area is, people won't enter unless you give them a sufficiently enticing invitation. Your restaurant's signage is a major way for them to identify you and decide whether they want to enter. There are many ways in which you can get creative with signage.
For example, if you have a sidewalk-style café or bistro, you can place a chalkboard at the entrance with an eye-catching slogan about your restaurant or a few of your menu highlights. If you have a family-style Italian or Spanish restaurant, you can have a striped awning with a hanging sign displaying your restaurant's name. And if your establishment is on the sophisticated side, you can design an archway-style entrance with artificial greenery and feature your restaurant's name on a delicately illuminated signboard.
Outdoor seating is, undoubtedly, a substantial investment to opt for. It is essential to choose furniture, materials, and décor of the highest quality and you may not always be willing to set aside resources for that. Once you've created an outdoor space, however, you'll witness a huge increase in footfall as well as much higher customer satisfaction – diners love the feel of open spaces, and greenery is an automatic mood-booster. So take some time out and design an outdoor seating area that does justice to your restaurant – the results, you'll find, will be more than worth it!