How to Prep Outdoor Seating Areas for Cold Weather

Autumn is here, and winter is coming. Revamp your restaurant patio for the winter months with these warm and cozy ideas.
Let customers enjoy outdoor seating year-round by making a few simple changes to your restaurant's patio. (Photo: William Perugini/Shutterstock)

Winter is on its way, but that doesn’t mean your restaurant’s patio seating is done for the season. Outdoor seating can be attractive to customers at all times of the year.

Even during the colder months in the fall and winter, people love to sit outside, said George W. Kelly, principal architect at Kelly Architects in Los Angeles.

“Winter or summer — it doesn’t matter. We design our patios for 365 days, all year-round. There is always someone who wants to be outside,” he said.

george kelly

“Winter or summer — it doesn’t matter. We design our patios for 365 days, all year-round. There is always someone who wants to be outside.” (Photo: George Kelly)

In fact, keeping your outdoor seating open during the winter months can impact sales. According to a study by Vucurevich Simons Advisory Group, an outdoor patio costs about $200,000 to build for seasonal use, but can result in an additional $500,000 in sales. Extending your patio’s life for year-round use can give those profits an added boost.

Want to get started on revamping your outdoor space for cold weather? Here are some tips you can use to create a cozy seating area outside when temperatures fall.

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Insulate with plastic or vinyl curtains

Kelly said anything under 59 degrees is too cold for most customers. In most parts of the country, temperatures get to that level starting in October.

The first step is to make sure your outdoor area is well insulated. Clear vinyl curtains or plastic roll-down sheets can be added to your patio for a small investment. Kelly advised going with heavy-duty materials that go all the way to the ground to keep the cold and wind out.

Put up a wind-blocking wall


Build a wall to shield your outdoor seating area from the wind and get creative by decorating the wall with lights or mural. (Photo: VladisloveM/Shutterstock)

Another way to protect your customers from getting too cold is to build a wall that blocks the wind, said Jeff Hands, president of Optimum Control and former restaurateur.

“It’s also a great piece to have year-round as you can get some really nice murals painted or even have local artists graffiti it for a more urban-influenced look,” he said.

Related: Outdoor Advertising Ideas That Work For Small Businesses

Offer seasonal warm drinks and food

You can also keep customers cozy with warm food and beverages. Thaw out guests by adding coffee, tea, hot chocolate, pie and other hot dishes to your menu during the colder months.

Chef Wayne Elias of Rockwell Table & Stage said that at his restaurant, they “have the servers recommend coffee drinks with liquor and our desserts on the menu that are served warm. The more guests consume, they start to warm up.”

Related: Festive, Wintry Cocktail Ideas for Your Holiday Menu

Invest in branded blankets


Providing extra pillows and blankets will help customers feel more willing to sit in outdoor seating areas during the winter months. (Photo: Olena Yakobchuk/Shutterstock)

Sometimes customers will forget to wear warm clothes for outdoor eating, Kelly said, so it’s wise to buy some inexpensive throw blankets to have on hand. To reinforce your brand, you can have these embroidered with your restaurant logo.

If you own a sports bar or restaurant, shoot for bonus points with fans by offering team-themed blankets to keep the exciting spirit alive.

But you don’t have to limit yourself to blankets only. Elias suggested also providing extra cushions and pillows. This will help you cultivate an even more relaxing and comfortable environment.

Related: 8 Tips to Improve Your Restaurant’s Outdoor Seating Area

Use electric and gas heaters

Electric and gas heaters are another effective patio addition — as long as they aren’t too close to customers and making them sweat. You can find a number of decorative heat lamps to install in your outdoor area that will remain consistent with the look and feel of your indoor space as well.

Kelly said heaters should be kept at least 2 feet away from anything combustible, and advised installing ceiling fans to help better distribute the heat.

Though it may be tempting to burn wood for heat, that can be dangerous, so stick to an electric or gas fire pit instead. For some added glitz, throw some colorful rocks into your fire pit as well.

If you serve your customers hot chocolate and create a cozy environment, Kelly said, “It feels like a little ski resort. There is something luxurious and unexpected about it.”

Related: How to ‘Pumpkin Spice’ Up Your Business If You’re Not a Coffee Shop

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