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How to Extend the Life of Your Outdoor Dining

Stephanie Bernstein
September 23, 2021

Summer is officially over, and fall has arrived. As pumpkin spice pops onto menus, you may plan to put away your patio furniture. But with increasing mask mandates nationwide due to the spread of the Delta variant, some patrons may prefer outdoor seating.

Here are some recommendations to keep your outdoor dining offering available through the fall (and maybe even into winter).

Protecting furniture
Materials matter. Whether you’ve already invested in decking out your deck or you’re planning for a new patio now, the materials of tables, chairs, and accessory furniture determine the longevity and comfort of your patio. And, how much care and consideration you’ll need to put into maintenance.

Not all materials can be used outdoors. Wood, for example, usually looks best, but very easily reacts to sunlight, UV exposure, and moisture. Teakwood specifically requires a lot of specialized care and may not be worth the time investment. On the contrary, plastic may look cheaper (as it is) but resists most weather elements.

A great balance between the two is stainless steel, aluminum, or resin. These quality materials require regular maintenance and cleaning but will have a longer life than wood or plastic. Be careful in sunnier climates, as steel tables can cause glare and reflection for diners. Resin tables reduce heat and reflection, and some are even sloped to help rainwater and debris to flow off the table.

To avoid rust and oxidation, we recommend using a stainless steel cleaner and a microfiber cloth. Regular upkeep avoids the need for eventual heavy-duty cleaning if the appearance declines.

Steel and aluminum also are popular materials for chairs. Cushions can be added to improve guest comfort, but be sure to clean these accordingly, too. Research is always recommended, as fabric qualities and costs vary. 

Each restaurant’s needs and customers differ, so it’s important to make well-informed purchases based on your own preferences and price point. Sometimes, the investment upfront is worth it, so you can reuse the furniture season after season and avoid the cost of constantly replacing worn-down pieces.

Once you have a sturdy setup, weather-proofing is a great way to extend the life of your patio furniture. Weather-based factors to consider include rain (which can lead to mold or mildew buildup), sun exposure (which can cause fading, cracking, or heat retention), and wind (which can affect stability). 

Plenty of retailers make weatherproof awnings for restaurants. There are various styles, sizes, and fabrics to consider - some are specialized for certain climates and can be UV treated, waterproof, or fire-resistant. 

If your patio space is attached to your main building, retractable awnings are great, year-round additions since they can be extended as needed and create a welcoming space. There are manual and motorized options – the latter sometimes including smart technology to detect sun, rain, motion/wind. Storage is also made easy with retractable awnings.

If an investment of this size isn’t in your budget, there are easier ways to weatherproof your space. Plastic sheeting above and on the sides of your patio can be economical and easily spruced up with decor. These also help trap heat on chillier days. Tents create additional privacy from sidewalk traffic and protect from inclement weather (if chosen properly).

Umbrellas at a minimum are a perfect solution. Stand-alone or through-the-table umbrellas are both great choices for rain or shine. Above all, it’s about creating a comfortable, repeatable experience for your customers.

Laws and regulations in many cities dictate how patios must be situated. From permits to pets to prohibiting alcohol, be sure to study your local legislation before creating or updating your space.

Additions for better ambiance
As temperatures drop, don’t let dining al fresco leave your customers all freezing. Depending on your region, and whether or not the patio itself is enclosed, heaters can help keep diners comfortable. Propane, gas, and electrical heat lamps are available – each has its own pros and cons. For example, electric heaters are cheaper upfront, but gas heaters are more cost-efficient in the long run.

Another area where rules and regulations come into play: propane heaters are restricted in many large cities due to fire department codes.

Aside from deciding on the energy source for your heaters, you’ll need to choose what type/shape of heater, including portable/box, wall-mounted, and ceiling-mounted. If appearance (or lack thereof) is important to you, wall-mounted can be great to blend in with the existing environment, specifically for attached patios. Ceiling-mounted heaters are the least visible, but high rafters are necessary. If your outdoor space is separate from your main restaurant, box heaters may be best.

Pro-tip: keeping a standard fan running alongside heaters can help disperse the heat evenly about the space.

It’s important to research which type, brand, price, and size of heater is best for your specific space.

We recommend stocking up on heaters while you can, due to supply chain strains and seasonal demand.

Outdoor dining unfortunately often includes unwelcome visitors. Especially as seasons change, pests may arrive both indoors and outdoors. Prevention here is key - ample fly traps, pesticide sprays or organic solutions, and proper cleaning. Insects can repel new customers and passersby. They can also leave your restaurant with a low health safety score, failed inspection, or in some cases, fines.

While quick fixes may have worked in the past, pest prevention should be left to the experts. We recommend calling in a pest control team to assess your space and identify areas of concern, especially if you’re planning to keep up your patio dining.

In the meantime, there are a few preventative measures you can take: Seating customers dining outdoors distant from dumpsters goes without saying - this can be damaging to their experience and end in a bad review. Be diligent about patio cleaning after a wave of diners to avoid small animals scouring for food. Know your area – infestations can occur when neighbors fail to use proper pest control measures, so communicate solutions and cooperative measures, especially if you’re on a busy block.

Pest control is one of many infrastructure categories that we manage for customers.

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Once your patio is warm and pest-free, add the finishing touches to become one of the best outdoor restaurants in your neighborhood.

Decor and lighting make the difference between some tables and chairs and an Instagram-worthy patio space. Matching it to the design of your indoor space creates cohesion between the two.

Distancing diners is especially preferred during COVID times. Ensure there’s ample room between tables, and that busy service doesn’t crowd the space too much. Managing reservations is one way to ensure a bumping but balanced dining experience.

Additional COVID considerations include using QR code menus, offering touchless payment options, and purchasing no-touch hand sanitizer dispensers. These high-tech options also improve efficiency across your waitstaff and team.