The upside of outside

Offering alfresco is much more than the chairs and tables.

Offering alfresco is much more than the chairs and tables.

Offering the option of dining alfresco seems a surefire way to make money. But it isn’t as simple as throwing some chairs and tables outside

We had to apply for council permission to set-up alfresco dining because that wasn’t included in our original licence, but it has been very beneficial as it attracts people walking past,” Darren O’Brien, manager of the Witch’s Cauldron in Subiaco, says.

“But there is also a cost to alfresco dining because of the labour involved in setting up everyday, ensuring the furniture is appropriate which you have replace every couple of years and constant maintenance in the area.

“Overall though, I would say the benefits outweigh the costs because if people see customers outside sitting in the sun and they seem to be enjoying themselves, there is a good chance they will stop and come inside.”

The temperate climate is a large factor in determining the popularity of alfresco dining. “In South Australia, we average only 10 days a year of rain at lunchtime, so alfresco dining is very important to the State,” says Sally Neville, CEO of RCSA. “Most restaurants and cafes are set up to accommodate alfresco dining and we do everything we can to support them.”

There are many issues that confront restaurants and cafes when it comes to alfresco dining. There are numerous council regulations to adhere to and these vary from council to council, state to state. There is also the decision on opening and closing times (usually regulated by council if it is council land),
what meals to serve and what furniture to buy to accommodate your customers.

Of course, if you want to change anything that was originally granted to you under your original licence you then have to go back to your local council and go through the approval process again, which in some areas can take up to three months.

This means that a whole season can pass, meaning a potential loss of income, while the bureaucratic process goes through the motions.

“The costs vary from council to council,” Jade Tustin, Hugos Group events and marketing manager, said. “It’s hard to put a figure on it but there is definitely a cost for having tables and chairs on the footpath. Other costs associated with alfresco dining are expenses to ensure the area is comfortable all year round. This can include shelter and heating.

“It’s important you control the environment. Whether it’s sound, smoking or alcohol-related. Councils can take away your permits if you don’t control the areas properly.”

Tustin believes that alfresco dining is very important to most restaurants and cafes across Australia, as most states experience more good weather than bad throughout the year.

“With Sydney’s weather, everyone wants to dine outside,” she said. “Hugos Manly has an amazing view of the harbour as we are located right on Manly Wharf, so people want to be as close to the water as possible. Alfresco dining also works for Hugos Bar Pizza in Kings Cross, as we are located right next to our nightclub. There is a lot of atmosphere and our outdoor seating is always booked in advance. Alfresco dining is vital to our business.”

“I would say the benefits outweigh the costs because if people see customers outside sitting in the sun enjoying themselves, there is a good chance they will stop.” Darren O’Brien, Which’s Cauldron, Melbourne.

Manly is one of the most competitive areas for alfresco dining in Australia. It has a plethora of restaurants and cafes along the ocean and strict council policies that follow suit.

One regulation in particular appears to be somewhat over the top: ‘All Licensees are only to use chairs, tables, umbrellas or any other equipment which are of a design, colour and specification selected and/or approved by Council. The only umbrella advertising permitted is to be the name of the business e.g. “Ceruti”s” etc. However, this does not apply in The Corso where Council provides umbrellas.’ Since when have Manly Councillors become experts in fashion?

“There are certainly a lot of rangers in the area,” David Quaid, general manager of White Water Restaurant and Blue Water Café, says. “If I was to have a table or chair 10cm over my licensed area, I would get a warning.”

Manly Council regulations again state this very clearly in black and white: ‘That licensees be required to remove all outdoor equipment from the footpath and store it within their premises when not in use and that the area to be used for outdoor eating be agreed with each restaurateur and its area measured.’

But overall, the benefits of alfresco dining weigh more heavily in favour than against. “To have a restaurant by the beachfront is ideal,” Quaid continued. “Obviously, in the winter you suffer, but Australia has generally good weather for the majority of the year so you are generally covered.

“But we can’t book outside in the summer because of the risk of bad weather. We simply say to patrons we will put you inside and if it is a fine night we will move you outside. With the White Water restaurant, we have 100 seats inside and only 30 outside, and on a beautiful summer’s night everyone wants to be outside. Of course, having people outside enjoying themselves is a big drawcard. Equally important is the quality of the furniture you use because it has to look attractive and be durable too. It has to be clean, comfortable and arranged conveniently.”

“We have been importing chairs, tables and lounges for three years and I can’t find a locally made competitor,” says John Batori of Have A Seat, which specialises in outdoor furniture. “We supply small cafes, restaurants, shops and clubs, and we are growing rapidly.

“We offer a good product, good service and a good price.”

Equally important for any café or restaurant offering alfresco dining is the lighting and heating. One company specialising in this area is Climate Australia.

“It was hard initially because Australians don’t understand heating and cooling for patio,” David Diamond, CEO of Climate Australia says. “It took a while to explain the products and how they are beneficial to your restaurant or café.”

Diamond’s company has two core products: the Firestick and the Mistmate. The Firestick is an outdoor gas patio heater and lantern, which covers up to 20 sqm, while the Tornado Mistmate Misting Fan is a 660mm fan that uses recycled unused water which covers up to 10 metres.

“The Mistmate is the answer to the outdoor air-conditioner,” Diamond says. “Both products are not only effective but look good too.”

Alfresco dining is set to grow in popularity across Australia as more diners look to take advantage of improved climate conditions. Despite some overly eager councils, there are plenty of reasons that alfresco dining is beneficial.

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

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