8 Tips to Improve Your Restaurant’s Outdoor Seating Area

Transform your outdoor seating into a magnet for guests.
Make your customers feel like they are on vacation by modeling your outdoor seating area after island resort patios. (Photo: Kelly Architects)

When the weather starts to warm up, it’s time to bust out the umbrellas and set up your outdoor seating area. A beautiful and comfortable outdoor space will bring guests to your restaurant during those warm months and keep them coming back.

If you want transform your outdoor seating area to draw more customers, consider these tips from George Kelly, principal architect at the Southern-California based Kelly Architects, and Dean

george kelly

To draw in more customers, set up a patio area right next to a sidewalk for a great visual, suggests George Kelly, principal architect at Kelly Architects. (Photo: George Kelly)

Small, president and CEO of Synergy Restaurant Consultants.

Related: 4 Simple Restaurant Design Changes Your Patrons Will Eat Up

Try a street patio

Whether or not you have a backyard to work with, you should test out a patio with seats right on the sidewalk, advised Kelly. He said they typically locate patio dining on the street in Los Angeles.

“People like to see and be seen here. Also, from an operator perspective, having people eating in front of a restaurant is a great visual that says, ‘We are open.’”

If you’re on a busy street, Kelly recommended putting up a railing to help the customers feel protected. “Railings are always required when you serve alcohol,” he said. “We on occasion do however beef them up or make them more solid when we’re next to busy streets.”

Before you do anything with your sidewalk space, make sure the sidewalk is satisfactory. “Many sidewalks are not suitable for dining because of the slope or texture,” said Kelly.

“Don’t believe your customer will accept a lower quality exterior dining environment just to be outside. We have seen low budget patios become the worst seat in the house.”

Related: How to Choose a Restaurant Location that Sets You Up for Success

Get some comfortable seats

Make diners feel like they are in an upscale environment by using furniture with throw pillows. (Photo: dvoevnore/Shutterstock)

Outdoor seats have to be just as comfortable as, if not more comfortable than, the ones inside. Small recommended staying away from traditional two-top and four-top tables and switching to booths, which are more comfortable. (Of course, not every restaurant will have the room or budget for outdoor booths.)

If it fits in with the theme of your restaurant, include lounge furniture outside as well. “This furniture with throw pillows will make your customers feel like they are in a special environment,” said Small.

Throw adequate shade

According to Kelly, all patio dining should be covered with large trees, awnings or umbrellas. “We find most people in southern California will not dine under the full sun,” he said.

If you opt for umbrellas, light them up at night. You can buy umbrellas with a lighting system already built in or add your own battery operated lights. “It makes for a very subdued lighting that people gravitate to instead of just random lights throughout the restaurant,” he said.

Use candles for romantic lighting


Placing candles on outdoor tables at night creates an alluring space. (Photo: Kitti Tantibankul/Shutterstock)

Putting out candles at night is an easy way to create an alluring environment. Small said you could use a combination of battery-operated flickering candles and real candles.

“It’s great when you can use real candles, but we understand there is a cost associated with managing that,” said Small. “You can place battery operated ones on the back bar on different elevations, where people are not so close to them. Place real candles on the tables.”

Play music

If you have the space, consider bringing in a DJ or live band. The type of music you provide should depend on the crowd you’re serving and what you’re serving. “If you’re trying to sell premium drinks, you want more music with a great beat,” Small said. “You could also play oldies to keep people there and make them happy. These are great tunes that are not offensive to anybody.”

If you hire a great DJ or band, you may become known for that, and it will act as a promotional tool, said Small.

Related: How the Right Playlist Can Rock Your Restaurant or Retail Sales

Keep it warm at night


“When you can get fire into the outside seating area, especially the vertical fire torches that are safe or fire pits, people will gravitate to that.” -Dean Small (Photo: Dean Small)

In some areas of the country, it can get cool at night, even in the spring and summer. If you’re in one of them, you’ll want to provide heat. Small said torchlights, overhead heaters and fire pits all work just fine. “When you can get fire into the outside seating area, especially the vertical fire torches that are safe or fire pits, people will gravitate to that.”

Provide protection against bugs

Insects can be brutal during the summer and turn customers off your outdoor seating area. To combat this, Small said you should have cans of insect repellent and citronella candles on hand. “The big issue is mosquitos at night, but there is only so much you can do with that.”

Find a great location to model yourself after

Need some inspiration for your outdoor dining area? Kelly said to look to resort island hotels. “The quality and level of detail put into a resort patio I believe can be implemented into even a small restaurant patio dining area if the owner and architect are willing to consider all options and invest accordingly in the quality of seating, lighting, heathers and shade.”

Who wouldn’t want to feel like they’re on vacation when dining out?

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