For a lot of restaurants, an outdoor dining area is an afterthought. A few plastic tables and chairs tossed on the sidewalk. But for many diners, al fresco dining is a destination. It’s something that people that live in temperate climates come to expect; something that those with seasonal climates love and adore. So why don’t more restaurants put more thought into their al fresco dining plans if they’re a big deal for so many diners?
“As we’ve seen with many of the rooftop bars that sprouted all over domestically and internationally, people are starved to be outside while still enjoying high-end, unique, or entertaining experiences,” says Maeve Webster, president of Menu Matters, a firm that tracks U.S. restaurant industry menu and operational trends in an article at Food News Feed.
Many restaurants may only be looking at the challenging variables that offering al fresco dining presents (weather, serving issues, space, permits, etc), but restaurants that do offer the opportunity to dine outdoors have found good results. In cities with inclement weather, diners welcome the opportunity to enjoy blue skies and fresh air as soon as the opportunity presents itself. And restaurants are becoming ever more clever in presenting al fresco dining as an experience.
In cities with tall buildings, like New York City, rooftop dining has long been a coveted experience, but is often associated with swank and the tony experience of the city. Some intrepid restaurants are filling their rooftops with color and cabanas, so it’s more of a tropical escape than your usual city experience. Without the famous skyline surrounding the patio, many regulars can feel as though they’ve gone on vacation, for at least happy hour.
Another way to transform rooftop spaces, especially for restaurant hotels looking to attract locals as well as guests, is to host outdoor movie nights. Regular occurrences with fun or themed motifs are a unique way to spin a space. Movie nights tend to create a feeling of community, and pair well with food. Some restaurants that are located in cities with temperamental weather have even gone so far as to host movie nights rain or shine, combatting Mother Nature by supplementing outdoor spaces with tents, heat lamps, etc. The expense of finding solutions is offset by customer loyalties that make plans to show up for the events that become a regular feature of the neighborhood.
Patios can also be a way for creative restaurant owners to create a sense of privacy and space, as when a restaurant may be located in a crowded area. Instead of using basic fencing, stone outdoor fireplaces and foldable walls can offer a sense of protection and isolation from crowds and excess noise while still maintaining the open outdoor feel that delineates al fresco dining. Outdoor spaces can benefit from trellises, retractable roofing and other creative ways to allow diners to choose their dining venue, all at the same restaurant.
Budget plays a strong role in how much a restaurant considers the outdoors, but with a little creativity, many have found ways to make utilizing the outdoors pay off.