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  • M. Villarreal

Tips for Creating an Inviting Outdoor Dining Space


An inviting outdoor dining space.

Hospitality tops the list of industries that were heavily impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. However, restaurants, bars, and cafes have been slowly opening throughout the summer. It was just in time to take advantage of the warm months and outdoor dining.

There are still plenty of restrictions in place that differ from state to state. In Texas, for example, restaurants are allowed to offer dine-in services up to 75 percent of the listed occupancy inside the restaurant. This number does not include the staff, though they must wear a face covering. The same goes for customers whenever it is impossible to maintain a 6-foot distance from others (except when they are seated to eat or drink, of course). However, these rules only apply to restaurants whose gross sales from alcoholic beverages do not exceed 51 percent of their total sales. To-go and delivery services are allowed.


The good news is that outdoor dining areas are not subject to an occupancy limit. You can use that to your advantage to reach more customers in the midst of the pandemic. If you have space to work with, follow our tips for creating an inviting outdoor dining space that is sure to bring in plenty of customers. You want to ensure their health and safety while still providing them with memorable dining experiences.

Research laws and regulations

When it comes to the pandemic guidelines and restrictions, what we mentioned above is limited to the state of Texas. If you are in another state, make sure you check what your state’s particular guidelines are. Even within Texas, there might be additional rules to follow in different cities.


If you are a restaurant owner, you are aware of all kinds of different rules and regulations you have to follow. For the food prep and kitchen area there are very specific codes (NFPA 96) that outline the need to clean and sanitize your hood vent exhaust system to pass inspection, ensure food safety and prevent the number one cause of fires in restaurants; grease fires in the hood vent system.

Additionally, you need to ensure you serve your customers with the freshest foods and drinks, for example, the right conditions are crucial for storing food. Providing your customers with an outdoor dining space is no different. It is also heavily regulated.


Here’s what you should find out:

· What are the city guidelines for capacity and accessibility?

· Are there any parking regulations?

· Does your insurance cover the patio?

· Are there any fees you need to pay for your outdoor dining space?

· Does your liquor license cover serving drinks outdoors?

Think about the space

Once you have figured out the necessary paperwork, you should now decide on how you want to organize the space. There are several approaches you can take. For one, you can limit your outdoor dining space to sit-down dining only. Alternatively, you can make it a more casual space similar to that of a bar. Secondly, you should consider whether you want it to have the vibe of a communal gathering space or a small café. All of these decisions will influence the layout of the space, as well as the furniture you will pick.


Our suggestion is to pick a layout and stick to it. Moving furniture around all the time will quickly become tiring. You have enough on your plate already, with the regular maintenance of your restaurant like kitchen cleaning. It will also be confusing for your servers, who will have to keep memorizing different area layouts. If you plan to have outdoor entertainment at one point as well, you should determine if you have the space for it from the start. There should also be safe and easy access to a power source if that is the case.


The comfort of your customers

Besides the proper furniture to fit your layout, creating an inviting outdoor dining space will include ensuring the comfort of your customers at all times.

The weather

Outdoor dining is a summer staple. However, it wouldn’t be possible without providing shade to the tables on those scorching summer days. Great patio umbrellas will serve two purposes. They will keep your customers in a cozy shade while also adding to the overall aesthetic of your outdoor dining area. The colors that are the most common are earth tones. Let your preferences guide you, but keep in mind that darker colors will fade over time, while lighter ones will look dirtier. You can also add fans and misters for those heatwave days. When the temperatures lower substantially, you will want to consider adding heaters or fires to keep your customers warm.

The furniture

There are plenty of options to choose from when it comes to patio furniture. Your main factors should be how easy it is to clean, how good it looks, and how comfortable it is. You should also stick to a certain type of furniture and avoid mixing and matching too much. Plastic is usually avoided as it can look cheap, though it is the easiest to clean. Upholstered seating will look great and comfy, but it will need a lot of maintenance and protection from the elements. Your best bet might be either wooden picnic tables or steel bistro chairs. They will lend themselves to matching the rest of your vibe easily.

Defining the area

The number one tip for an outdoor area is cleanliness – does it invite the customer to relax. All too often a restaurant will create an amazing outdoor area, but neglect cleaning the ground which can leave the guest questioning not only the space, but the restaurant. Something as simple as properly power washing the concreate or floor surface area shows your outdoor area is part of your restaurant and your attention to detail.


Another great tip for creating an inviting outdoor dining space is to try to imitate the feel of dining inside your restaurant as much as possible. Decorative planters or fencing can be a great way of defining the outdoor dining area while simultaneously providing you with an opportunity to create the unique ambiance of your place. This does not have to be pricey – a decorative fence is a great investment, especially if you get a plant like an ivy to grow around it.

A pop of color

The easiest way to connect your outdoor dining space with the inside of your restaurant is to use the same color scheme or patterns. Consistency is important, but you could also use contrasting colors in similar ways to attract the attention of your customers. So do not be afraid to add a bit of color.

Lighting

Whether it is a home or a restaurant, lighting is probably the key element to ensuring the atmosphere of your space is exactly what you want it to be. If you are serious about creating an inviting outdoor dining space for your restaurant, make sure you use lighting to your advantage. You will need to provide it anyway once the sun goes down, so why not make it count? Any soft lighting will do. Candles on tables, twinkling lights, or decorative lanterns will all create an intimate outdoor dining experience.


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