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Café & Restaurant
Outdoor Space Design

A guide to creating an authentic outdoor
dining experience for New Zealand customers.

Outdoor dining is a customer magnet, so create a space that will capture more business and utilise unused space. How will you make it functional and comfortable enabling you to improve your bottom line? Let’s take a look at how you can recover your restaurant or cafe's unused space to create memorable, authentic dining experiences. Here are some of the best hospitality business ideas.



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Custom Branded Umbrella Case Study

Ironhand Winebar in Southbend, Indiana took steps to address their outdoor space, adding cantilever umbrellas with custom branding.
Not only expanding their dining area but marketing activities. 




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Grow your business with an outdoor space

Increase customer spend

No one likes a queue... Picture this, you're standing in line behind five people waiting to be seated and there's someone at the front of the line arguing with the maître d' about their seating options. The longer they take, the more your belly aches, the scents coming from the kitchen, tantalising and torturous. Time grinds to a halt as your stomach begins to shout. You're getting impatient and irritated and there are still 4 people in front of you.  

Limiting your seating options will limit the number of people you can have on-site, enjoying your food and spending their money. 

Improve online ratings

What's your go-to seating option at your favourite eatery? Is it outdoors? Customers love to fill up the outdoor seating first, it's away from the noise of the kitchen and coffee machine and closer to nature. Customers who have a good experience are more inclined to leave a review of your business.

Review platforms like Yelp can help give your restaurant some serious clout - the millions of monthly users can influence potential customers. Reviewers are critical about the whole experience, from the food to the atmosphere. Customer reviews on Google play a huge role in determining your page rank.

Grow social shares

Social media platforms are one of the best marketing channels for the hospitality industry. There are over 4 billion users on social media worldwide. With the right strategy, you can attract more customers and promote your brand by:

  • Publishing original content
  • Sharing interesting information
  • Sharing your customers’ experiences and pictures
  • Promoting special events
  • Engaging with customers in real-time

A strong, influential social media presence is key in today's customer decision making. 

Spend some energy researching your competitor's social media presence, what's working for them and what can you learn from their successes and missteps.  This will help you create a strong following that will visit and talk about your great establishment.

Leverage your target market by creating a space that is perfect for mobile photography - mood lighting, good shade and a complementary colour palette. It's also worth investing in creative outdoor dining features such as a drinks bar or an outdoor pizza oven. 

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How to design a successful outdoor dining space

So, you’re sold on having a new outdoor space? Great but, where to start? We’ve put together practical design tips to bring your brand-new-money-spinner to life. The focus is going to be on function, comfort and profit. We're passionate about hospitality and helping proprietors so they can focus on great service, great food and great drinks.

We've supplied plenty of outdoor solutions to hospitality businesses around the globe and we're well-positioned to now help you come up with the best ideas to create a space that generates income, improves your business and of course, looks excellent. We're here to help you create a consistent, memorable experience for your patrons. 

Step 1: Find your who and your why

Look at your outdoor space and analyse it’s potential. Identify who your ideal patron is and what are they looking for. Do you need space for a band, or different seating options for people who need to lounge? Is your outdoor space going to be used for a specific segment of your clientele?

Determining who and what type of activities that will be taking place within the space is an important first step as it will direct the entire exterior design. Once you’ve defined who is going to use the space and what they are going to use it for, you can focus on the atmospheric elements that will assist in creating a memorable experience for your guests.

Step 2: Mood boards and creative choices

Once you’ve got clarity on how you want to use your space, it’s time to gather inspiration. Don’t be tempted to ignore your current interior design choices when moving into the outdoor realm. Consistency is important when designing any hospitality space so think about the fixings you have, your current colour palette, the atmosphere you’ve created indoors and how you want it to flow outdoors.

Visiting other hospitality venues that inspire you is a great way to get a sense of what you like and what you don’t like in a space. Searching online through Pinterest, Instagram and Google Images is a great way of finding designs that move you. Print media is still thriving, so pick yourself up a few design magazines to sink your teeth into. This 3-layered approach gives yourself a chance to explore all your options.

Throughout this phase, you will start to see trends appear in the inspiration you’ve pulled. It might be a colour scheme, a certain style, textures, patterns, materials or an overall ‘buzz’ you can’t quite put into words. Whatever it is, be sure to keep this at the forefront of your design choices. Create a mood board that expresses your design aesthetic and your overall look and feel. 

Step 3: Understand the significance of colour

Colour is a powerful tool in any design arsenal. Colour can improve moods, sway thinking, increase appetite and affect the energy in a space. Think about how you want your guests to feel. How can you inject colour into your outdoor area to influence and amplify these emotions?

Do you want your space to feel fresh and vibrant?
Bright colours such as yellows and oranges can bring this to life by elevating moods and make your customers feel happier. People tend to indulge more when they are feeling happy than when they are calm or sad.

Do you want to increase your average spend per head?
Consider the colour red. Red can increase appetite as it drives up blood pressure and increases heart rate. Try mixing it into your table settings or in large pieces or artwork. As a shading solution, consider red umbrellas, shade sails or awnings. Red is an eye-catching colour so try to use it in a big way if you can as it can drive more street traffic to your business.

If warm tones don’t fit your vibe, cool tones in the right shade can have a similar effect. Green is a colour associated with health, wealth and abundance. Tropical plants paired with a splash of turquoise can invoke the care-free feeling felt when on holiday, causing your guests to splurge more and spend more time. 

Whether you’re trying to serve up the best food and wine or trying to be the trendiest restaurant in town, all restaurateurs have the same goal: 'Provide an excellent customer experience'

It’s time to think outside the box for your outdoor space. Perhaps your customers would enjoy live local music, relaxing on loungers as opposed to chairs, sipping on cocktails from an outdoor bar or having an intimate get together with their loved ones. Whatever path you find yourself on, make sure function is front-of-mind.

Here are 6 of the best hospitality business ideas...


Step 4: Leverage lighting

Photographers will tell you the most important part of the image is the lighting. This rings true for your outdoor project too. With the right lighting strategy, you can create ambience and enhance your customer's dining experience (you’ll make it easier for your guests to snap a few shots for social media too).

When planning your lighting strategy, you will need a mix of ambient lighting to allow people to see and navigate through your outdoor space, task lighting for your staff members to complete certain functions and accent lighting to create drama, opulence and highlight focal points in your outdoor space.

Creative ways you can use lighting is with fairy lights, fire pits, outdoor heaters, menu boards, water features, lanterns, candles, string lighting and signage.

Step 5: Shade from the sun, shelter from the rain

If we’re being practical, you will need to consider comfort for all weather conditions.  Your customers will sun protection during the daytime, warmth from the cold during the night-time and protection from the rain, any time.

Think of your shade solution as an investment. You might spend more at first, but your returns will be better in the long term with less replacement and maintenance costs. Be cautious of cheap products which may look great for the first 6 months but deteriorate soon afterwards.

We’ve curated a list of the Top 6 shading solutions available. Read below to find out which shading option would best suit your space.

Step 6: The details

Tables and chairs.  Salt and pepper.  Entrées and Mains. There are lots of little details that go into creating the perfect dining experience in the perfect outdoor space.

The key ingredient is consistency. We’ve talked about this in the previous steps. It’s imperative to create a space where all parts work together. Your staff and customers will appreciate it even if they don’t notice it.

Don’t forget to test and measure once you’re ready to launch, if something’s not working don’t be afraid to modify it, all it could take is shifting one table to improve your numbers.




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6 Ideas for outdoor shade solutions

Choosing the right outdoor shade solution is important, you’ve got to ensure you can look after your guests all day long, creating a space that’ll shelter them from the midday sun and the odd shower that comes through.

There are several options for shade:

Outdoor Umbrellas. With a high quality commercial umbrella you are assured or a solid investment. You can have them wall mounted, cantilevered or a traditional centre pole to match your venues aesthetic. Cantilever umbrellas are a product built for the hospitality and hotel industry, they’re available in any colour and can be provided with custom branding. The canopy fabric provides UV protection all day long.

Fabric canopy. These are mounted on a four-pole structure, anchored to the deck and can be retracted when shade is not necessary. Because this is a semi-permanent structure, it may not be a good fit for all spaces.

Trees and plants. Natural shade from trees or tall plants is not always a quick fix and requires regular maintenance. You can create a natural feel to your space but they’re best paired with another shade solution when designing your space.

Pergola. This is an elegant four-piece structure, but the roof is constructed with rafters, so they aren’t ideal for shading on their own. 



Pergolas work best when paired with an outdoor umbrella and some shrubbery for full, safe shade.

Shade sail. A shade sail is triangular-shaped and suspended overhead. Popular with schools and shared spaces, they’re a permanent fixture that can be hard to clean and maintain.

Awnings. Attached to the wall, Awnings are good for keeping out of the way, but their size and internal mechanics make them expensive to maintain and replace.

The benefits of using a specialist supplier to help you create the space



Creating an outdoor space doesn’t have to be overwhelming, there are plenty of online resources you can use to narrow your focus, including this one.

Our key suggestion is to approach your space with a quality-first mindset, which will push you above and beyond the competition. Don’t risk purchasing cheap outdoor furniture and fixings from local hardware stores or in bulk from low-quality manufacturers.

Saving on upfront costs can be tempting but detrimental to the look and feel of your space. Like a pair of Italian shoes, you invest in quality and they can last for years. Purchase cheap shoes and you have to keep replacing them which is more expensive in the long run.

Consistency is key to great spaces

Outdoor dining and entertainment spaces are the best way to create a new or additional, and reliable source of income for your hospitality business. Outdoor areas at cafes and restaurants are usually the first to fill up, even on a cold day.

Shade structures are essential to the design of your product; without it, you won’t have enough available space for it to generate significant profits. There are plenty of options that will create the perfect ‘outdoor room’ to keep your guests happy and spending.

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