Expertise Interview /

Secrets of Successful Outdoor Dining

Creating outdoor dining space has become a sort of collective madness in the restaurant world.

It’s not just the allure of dining outside, enjoying warm sun or soft breezes that drives this trend; it’s also the tangible business benefits of increasing the number of available tables a restaurant has to sell.

The result is outdoor dining just about everywhere – on porches, decks, rooftops, in parking lots, and, in some urban locations, on commandeered stretches of public sidewalk space.

The results can range from delightful to horrific; in the latter category a dining deck located immediately downwind of the restaurant’s dumpster comes to mind.

What does it take, then, to create a truly attractive outdoor dining space? We know how to do it at home, just take a look at some patio furniture sets and choose the most comfortable one, create an overhead canopy so that you’re not thwarted by changing weather, hang some fairy lights around the garden, and make sure you face in the direction of the best views. As it turns out, it’s not much different for restaurants.

In a recent article in “Restaurant Hospitality” authored by Gina LaVecchia Ragone, Tim Trapp, principle in a Boulder, Colorado-based restaurant design firm, shared his thoughts on the subject.

One of his primary observations was the importance of making sure that outside dining offered something comparable to what a patron sitting inside would experience – equal levels of comfort and service are essential.

He also discussed the importance of layout and design. Ideally outdoor dining should be accessible without the staff having to march through the dining room, creating drafts and disruption.

Moreover, it’s important than any outdoor space add-ons are within the capacity of the restaurant’s infrastructure – kitchen, warewashing, food storage, and the like.

Putting an “emotional lid” on an outdoor space is also a best practice. Sitting under an open stretch of sky can, Trapp asserts, be vaguely disconcerting. He suggests using latticework or strings of lights to give an al fresco space a sense of overhead definition. It would also be worth installing something like outdoor gooseneck lights to ensure that there is brighter lighting in areas that are busier, like doorways and toilet areas to ensure people can clearly see.

There are some noteworthy outdoor dining spaces here in Western Massachusetts.

Some have spectacular views; the champion on that score is the Golden Eagle Restaurant in Clarksburg, which is located on Route 2’s “hairpin turn.” Its dining room and balcony offer amazing “hundred mile” vistas of the distant Taconic range.

More intimate in terms of outdoor perspectives is Alvah Stone in Montague, with its deck looking out across a wooded glade through which the Sawmill River flows.

I’m also a big fan of two urban spaces. Both are in Northampton, and both are second story dining porches. One is at Mulino’s on Strong Avenue; the second is part of Osaka on Old South Street. Both offer something akin to the sidewalk dining experience but without the street level noise and distraction.

An oasis of elegance created from parking lot space is the outdoor dining offered by the 350 Grill on Worthington Street in downtown Springfield. Linen, attractive furnishings, and an intimate sense of enclosure work to bring the indoors out into the night air.”

(Source: Hugh Robert, masslive.com)

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