From the Outside In

Think You Can’t Cash In on the Revenue Boost from Outdoor Spaces? Think Again.

Whether it’s February or July, people love the idea of imbibing outdoors — but in many places, they don’t think it’s realistic, as fickle Mother Nature pours down rain, sleet and snow on many areas throughout the year. But never fear: You can make your customers’ dreams of partying in the great outdoors come true — along with your dreams of increased revenue — if you’ve got the right tools, from heaters and canopies to fans and misters.

For any operator, the greatest concern when adding an outdoor space — be it a patio, rooftop bar or balcony — is the weather; it can be too cold, too hot, too rainy, too snowy, too anything. So in order to allow your bar or club crowd to enjoy the outdoors, you’ve got to be prepared for any and every climate.

Eden Lounge

Eden in Washington, D.C., (above) deals with the summertime heat with misters while using Solaria heaters for warmth in the winter

Elemental Protection

First up: protection. Whether it’s from snowflakes or UV rays, you need to protect your guests. “Weather is always a key factor — comfortable guests come back, but if you let them freeze, bake or get wet, your outdoor space won’t be popular for long,” says Bagus “Goose” Anak-Agung-Gede, general manager at the Long Beach, Calif., Mai Tai Bar, which features 700 square feet of outdoor space.

For ample shade, stock up on umbrellas that you can move around the space, and if you offer tables, check to see if your setup has enough space to provide at least a few tables with umbrellas in them. You can extend the use of umbrellas to cooler months, too, by providing a new heated version, suggests Brad Belletto, president of Dallas-based design firm Vision 360, who has worked on outdoor spaces in Texas at the Fort Worth Pour House, Naan Sushi in Allen and Glo Lounge in Dallas, as well as Epic in Key West, Fla.

Stone Rose LA

Gerber Group bars and restaurants including LA’s Stone Rose Lounge invest in design details like fire pits for those cool LA evenings. 

Washington, D.C.’s Eden is proof that you don’t have to reside in a tropical climate to operate outdoors year-round. The 8,500-square-foot lounge features a 2,000-square-foot open-air rooftop bar that keeps things warm and dry with a Solaria heating system and a canopy to cover the bar and VIP seating areas. Some bars also use louver canopy systems, which are quickly becoming a popular new option, Belletto says. The slats in louver canopies can remain fully open, can tilt to protect guests from the glare of the sun or can shut completely to block rain.

Gas heaters keep places like New York City’s Veranda warm for guests and are available in a variety of styles. “There are some great designer propane heaters that are made from chrome and can be paired with tents and cabanas to create a space that will work year round,” explains Ed Jacobs, president of Long Island, N.Y.-based Ambiente Designs Inc. Additionally, some bars up the temperatures — and the style — with fire pits, like Gerber Group’s 27 bars and restaurants around the world, 11 of which include outdoor spaces.

Even in hot-weather locales, bar operators must be prepared for bad weather that can dampen evenings outdoors. Mai Tai Bar features a covered patio, but even that wasn’t enough — management had to add a custom curtain to keep guests fully protected year-round. At Urban Crust/32° in Plano, Texas, the 4,000-square-foot space features a 400-square-foot rooftop bar, and owner Nathan Shea had to add a retractable awning and sides to protect guests from wind and rain.

And what about the inevitable heat wave that hits California, Texas and nearly everywhere else in the summer? While some places may not get as scorching as others, guests are sure to get beat by the heat if they’re having a good time outdoors without adequate protection. If you’re lucky enough to be in the shade, like Veranda, or get a great ocean breeze like Mai Tai Bar, you may not need much in the way of cooling, but others have to go all out to keep guests cool, incorporating fans and more. “During the summer we underestimated the heat,” says Kunal Shah, managing partner at Eden. “The fans weren't keeping the space cool enough, so adding the misters really helped a great deal.”

Updating the Outdoors

Whiskey Blue AtlantaNo matter how much you try to protect your guests from the elements, you can’t always keep Mother Nature at bay. This means using the right combination of decorative and functional furniture outdoors, all while creating a space where guests actually want to be.

“In the winter it is easy for the space to lose momentum because people may be afraid to go out in the cold,” Shah says. “At Eden, we have created a ‘paradise in the winter’ theme on the roof. It is so comfortable and warm that people are excited to be outside even though it is freezing everywhere else.” Shah says they go for a look that exudes nature year-round, using plants, pebble stone walls, granite bars and wood floors. “People love being outside. If you create an outdoor space, it helps to [do it in such a way] that people feel like they are really outside.”

Scott Gerber, one of the principals and founders of Gerber Group, tries a similar approach in his bars. Though the inside and outside spaces have a consistent decorative approach, the exterior areas get a functional update in terms of materials and styles. “For example, Atlanta’s Whiskey Blue features comfortable cabanas and rolling hills of artificial grass and trees, and Fort Lauderdale’s WET pool lounge features alligator-shaped benching to complement an outdoor theme,” he says.

Additionally, “be flexible,” Jacobs says. “Use products and furniture that can be moved and maintained easily.”

The outdoor furniture must be durable, UV-resistant and comfortable, but also stylish and similar to your indoor furnishings, providing a seamless transition from indoors to outdoors. “The space should feel like a whole concept,” Belletto says.

Free Flowing

Two options to help the space flow better: install garage doors or opening glass walls — such as NanaWall Systems — that can open to connect the indoors to the outdoors, Belletto suggests.

These open entrances help with traffic flow, but it’s critical to make sure you’ve got employees watching for any holdups around the entrance to the outside space.

“If your club or bar is packed at full capacity, there isn’t much you can do to direct traffic; there will always be some tight spots because of how people hang out in groups by the bar or by their seating area,” Gerber notes. “But the best way to keep the traffic flow moving is having the bar manager or employees at the bar to remind the guests that there is more seating outside if the inside is packed.”
At Eden, the club has capacity control outdoors, as well as two staircases to help keep the flow between all levels.

The Ranch

The Ranch at Las Colinas in Texas (above) was designed by Vision 360 with the outside in mind. The restaurant features bands on what it calls the Porch.

Equal Opportunities

But while the outdoor space might be a hot spot for guests, it’s important to keep your inside just as attractive as well — or vice versa. At Eden, for example, “People really want to be on the rooftop, so we try to keep the lower levels as entertaining as possible by booking big name DJs and having other special acts to keep the demand up for those floors as well,” Shah explains.

Entertainment should be prevalent both inside and outside, and the quality of service must always be top-notch in both settings. This includes having an outdoor bar — or at least one close to the outdoors. “Don’t make your bar remote from the outdoor area,” Belletto recommends.
And although it may be expensive to install, Shah highly recommends having service bars outdoors. “Invest money to have a proper service bar outside because customers do not like waiting for drinks. It may take too much time, especially in crowded environments, to bring drinks or food from an indoor facility.”

But the most important thing, says Sameh Elashry, partner at NYC’s Veranda, is to study. “Study your space really well, study your neighbors really well and then come up with what you want to offer,” he says.

Once you’ve got a strong handle on your space — both the opportunities and the limitations within it — you’ll be able to differentiate your bar from your competition. Then you’ve got a strategy for bringing the crowds into your space, before sending them outdoors, of course. NCB

5 Hot Tips for Outdoor Success

In Long Beach, Calif., Mai Tai Bar offers 700 square feet of outdoor space. Here, General Manager Bagus “Goose” Anak-Agung-Gede lays out his top five tips for running the hottest spot in town.

Focus on the outdoors upfront. “Too often, outdoor spaces are an afterthought. It’s really worth the effort to pay just as much attention to outdoor spaces as indoor.” Make the space comfortable year-round, including heaters, fans and shelter from the elements.

Quick service. “Once you’ve made the space comfortable, make it easy to service by including a service bar or at least a service station.”
Easy access. “Allow for a safe exit from the outside area. It’s generally wise to have your entrance in one spot, but you’ll be glad you have an exit from the outside space when you need it.”

Don’t go the distance. “Include proximity to the kitchen or bar in your staffing considerations. Ensuring that food and drink get to the guests at a timely manner is key for all of us, and just a little extra distance in a crowded venue can add up.”

Top Trends in Outdoor Design

Not sure what’s hot in outdoor furniture and other decorative elements? Brad Belletto, president of Dallas-based Vision 360, gives his top trend picks:

  • European-style heated umbrellas
  • Environmentally conscious furniture (FSC certified woods, manufactured locally to cut down on the carbon foot print)
  • Garage/opening glass doors
  • Indoor/outdoor bars
  • Louver canopy systems

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