Outside the box

Summer is on its ways so a quick spruce-up of your restaurant’s outdoor area will keep customers flocking. By Kerryn Ramsey

Cafe Sydney.

Cafe Sydney.

As warm weather heralds the start of summer, it’s important that your outdoor dining zone is up to scratch. It should be a contemporary, functional space that invites patrons to sit, eat and enjoy their dining experience. A spring clean will freshen up the area but you also need to look at the furniture, lighting, landscaping and menu.

“Each outdoor area needs to respond to its place in order to make it unique,” says architect David Gole, senior associate of Conrad Gargett Riddel. “It needs to become its own little oasis.”

Whether the outdoor zone is on the footpath, out the back or on the rooftop, effective signage is one of the most important pieces of marketing. Ideally, it should be large, well positioned and well lit. Take the time to walk around and ensure your brand name hasn’t become faded or covered by trees. This is also a good opportunity to check other outdoor signs—mobile/wifi use, bathrooms, no-smoking, open/close—replacing any that are out of date or looking tatty. And don’t forget to spruce up any outdoor menu boards. While these are great for showcasing your dishes and enticing passersby, it’s imperative that the boards are clean, current and well lit so patrons can read them after dark.

Atmosphere is one of the trickiest—and most important—aspects when it comes to outdoor dining zones. An inviting ambience encourages patrons to stay from brunch to post-dinner cocktails on the weekend. “Figure out the personality you are trying to project,” says designer Ryan Genesin of Genesin Studio who’s designed Adelaide establishments such as Eden Dining. “If it’s something that’s quite contemporary and doesn’t have a nationality or a heritage, it’s worth creating some eye candy.” He suggests adding a pop of colour in the space that can range from vibrant planters to graphic seat fabrics. Simply make sure these elements present a consistent colour scheme inside and outside, embracing the restaurant or cafe’s brand.

Eden Dining, Adelaide.

Eden Dining, Adelaide.

“People like natural finishes that relate more to the outdoor context,” says David Gole who’s designed award-winning eateries in Brisbane, including Harveys Bar and Bistro and e’ccobar. “I try to use at least some timber in the palette—natural tones that pick up the context can work well. I also like darker table surfaces that minimise reflection and show off the food.”

For the Bavarian Bier Café chain, outdoor dining areas are a priority. Its long timber benches pay homage to the traditional German beer halls, but its summer menu mixes Australian and European offerings. “We use fresh, seasonal flavours along with
a modern take on traditional favourites and local specialties,” says group executive chef Adam Petta.

The 10 Bavarian Bier Café locations include views of Manly Wharf, Bondi Beach and the Brisbane River. This adds impact to their dining ambience and encourages customers to eat and drink outside in any season. This is enhanced by market umbrellas, radiant heating and its popular Bavarian Pure Bier.

While outdoor views undoubtedly bring customers flocking, the exterior area needs to be fresh and welcoming, particularly in regard to landscaping. “Planting will help soften an outdoor space so there aren’t too many hard surfaces,” says Gole. “But getting the right balance between soft and hard landscape can be tricky.”

Contemporary box planters are not only low cost and low fuss, they are also moveable. “We can move our planter boxes to expand and contract the size of the outdoor area, depending on the volume of people we have,” says Todd Cummins, restaurant manager of Cafe Sydney. “That way it always feels intimate.”

When buying or updating outdoor furniture, there is an important point to consider, particularly on sunny weekends. “The bigger the furniture, the more people are going to spread out and read newspapers. The smaller the tables, the quicker you’ll turn over meals,” says Genesin.

Bavarian Bier Café, Manly.

Bavarian Bier Café, Manly.

Durable furniture made for the Australian climate is essential when choosing outdoor seating. According to Cummins, the Cafe Sydney team refreshes the furniture every three years to keep it looking smart. He recently commissioned a new marble tabletop collection that should last the distance. “They are designed to be left in the rain and have marine plyboard underneath,” he says. “They don’t swell and they don’t look tacky.”

With summer on its way, providing plenty of shade encourages customers to linger longer. Outdoor umbrellas are a great option, ranging from freestanding market umbrellas to in-ground cantilevered versions. Take time to check the quality of them—if they’re dirty, mottled, faded or teared, it’s time to replace.

An awning serves multiple purposes—it shelters customers from rain, wind and sun but it also doubles as a sign for your business. And it adds a welcoming feel to your restaurant.

When selecting an awning, there are costs to consider. “It can be quite expensive to cantilever,” says Genesin. “Wind-out awnings are good and there are some good brands out there.”

For Cafe Sydney, a 50-metre-long retractable awning has been one of the most effective elements of its outdoor dining zone. “At nighttime, it’s really important for people to sit under the stars. It’s gorgeous out there,” says Cummins.

Appropriate lighting is a key element in encouraging patrons to stay and dine late at night during warmer months. The trick is to have gentle illumination without any glaring spotlights. “You want to create a bit of intimacy,” says Genesin. “You don’t want it to be so dark they can’t see your food but you want it to be dim enough so they can enjoy the atmosphere.”

The answer is a combination of light sources—some direct and indirect options. It’s important, however, to understand your clientele. If your venue is a place where a lot of business gets done, then the light levels should be higher. Hiring a live band in the courtyard is a great way to add atmosphere and can draw in crowds, depending on your target demographic.

So, maintaining your outdoor dining zone is all about knowing your clientele, keeping the area fresh and functional, and imbuing the space with a warm and welcoming ambience. The beautiful Australian climate will do the rest.

This great content is produced for members of the Restaurant & Catering Association. Find out about becoming a member here.

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