Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Outdoor Seating: Recent Trends and Insights

Outdoor seating is an increasingly popular way to activate streetscapes and encourage economic development in neighborhood commercial districts. Outdoor seating has the capacity to attract more patrons by blurring the boundary between inside and out and bringing vibrancy to streets and commercial corridors.  Furthermore, it expands seating capacity for businesses and reinforces the image of a thriving downtown.

This London restaurant added removable planters to separate eating and circulation areas

During our work at LOA we have met many business owners who have shared with us the benefits that adding outdoor seating have brought to their businesses.  In fact, recent research by the Simons Advisory Group has shown that a simple deck or patio can increase revenue by up to 30 percent. What is it about outdoor seating that has such a large effect on customers? There are many factors involved, most of which revolve around comfort. Some people say that an outdoor dining experience makes the food taste fresher and better. Others simply enjoy gazing at the view as they share a meal with friends or family. Below are some recent trends*.

Sidewalk seating

One of the easiest ways to offer customers the joys of an open-air dining experience is to add a sidewalk dining area with a few comfortable sets of tables and chairs that match the restaurant’s theme. Sidewalk seating gives lots of flexibility, too. During lunchtime, diners will appreciate a casual dining experience as they watch pedestrians or sip a cold beverage while they enjoy the shade. At night, candles or umbrella lighting can make the atmosphere more intimate and create an attractive display for onlookers to enjoy. 

The added seating outside this bakery have brought vibrancy and liveliness to this section of Broadway, NYC

Rooftop dining

What if the business doesn’t have the space to expand outward? In these instances, many restaurateurs are instead choosing to expand upwards. From London to New York, diners everywhere are talking about rooftop eateries. Why? Because the bird’s-eye view allows them to take in beautiful city skylines or wide-open landscapes as they dine.

Dining in the garden

One of the industry’s hottest trends is farm-to-table food, and it’s a trend that is easily combined with outdoor dining. To take advantage of this trend, it’s less about the space — a sidewalk, deck, patio or rooftop — and more about what you grow in it. Some restaurants are landscaping their outdoor dining areas with the same fruits and vegetables that they’re serving their customers. With the addition of a few raised beds, you can create a wonderfully relaxing environment for your guests while growing some of the lettuce, tomatoes, peppers and other fruits and vegetables that you’ll be serving.

 Inspired? As a downtown district practitioner you can (and should!) encourage the trend:
  • Consider a program for helping local business owners navigate permit process and even a grant to offset their initial costs (i.e. to help with design services, or outdoor furniture, etc.)
  • Help with expediting the process. Nearly all municipalities require some sort of outdoor dining permit so consider creating a simple guide to the permitting process or providing individual guidance to business owners.  
  • Track the number of establishments with outdoor seating and share their success with other business owners. This could inspire many others to join the trend.

*Based on trends by Jeff Caldwell written for

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