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Outdoor Café and Restaurant Design Considerations

If you are considering doing an outdoor expansion, however, you will need to take your time and plan it carefully in order to reap the benefits. Every design element (not to mention careful adherence to regulations regarding outdoor entertainment areas) will be key to making your outdoor café or restaurant a success.

This article offers you a comprehensive guide to planning, designing, and creating your outdoor restaurant or café.

First, Check the Laws and Regulations

Before you start considering your myriad design options, your first step should be to check the laws and regulations governing outdoor dining areas in your city. Your municipality probably has rules that you haven’t even considered when it comes to outdoor entertaining areas. There are usually limitations regarding how much of a public sidewalk you can use for your business, the appropriate height, length, and width of your enclosure if you decide to build one, and other considerations. So, your municipal authority should be your first port of call. Get hold of the city’s rules and study them to ensure that all your forthcoming design ideas stay in line.

Aside from any restrictions relating to the size of the outdoor eating area, there are several other issues that may be regulated by local bylaws. These include:

  • The ability to make the area pet-friendly,
  • Whether or not you can allow smoking,
  • The service of alcohol,
  • Permits for electricity and plumbing, and/or
  • Noise ordinances.
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Types of Outdoor Areas

Do you know what type of outdoor area you want? What kind of space are you working with? A sidewalk? A garden? A rooftop? Each of these environments will not only require a unique approach, but also presents its own set of opportunities and challenges. Let’s take a look at each one in turn to see what needs to be considered.


Sidewalk seating is perhaps the easiest and most flexible type of outdoor set-up, assuming you’re not planning to build an enclosure of some sort, which will add some additional tasks and considerations. At its simplest, all you would need to do is place tables on the sidewalk outside your restaurant, together with high-quality umbrellas – preferably branded with your logo. You can add tables to the area or take them away as the volume of business dictates. A sidewalk set-up really works to make your establishment more attractive, not only to regulars but to passing trade as well.


This kind of dining area is more of an exclusive offering than a sidewalk one. Rooftop expansion has become essential in crowded cities, but this necessity is a wonderful stimulus for creativity. Many rooftop seating areas are given a beautiful, elite touch with manicured gardens, retractable roofs, awnings or pergolas, and cocktail bars, among other things. They can offer a vibey, sunlit space during the day and a candlelit romantic retreat at night.


An exciting trend in the industry is the use of landscaped spaces in which food is grown fresh and diners can sit among the greenery while enjoying the fruits of the land. Place your tables in your gardens and provide an organic and serene dining environment. This is an intricate variation on the sidewalk-style seating. You may want an enclosed area within the garden, perhaps with creepers and other plants growing inside of it. Or, you could place the tables entirely outdoors with umbrellas. The choice depends on the space you have at your disposal.

Fire and Water:

People love to dine in an environment that is centered around either an elegant water feature or a fire pit. Fire creates an ambiance of warmth and intimacy, while water features evoke freshness and purity. Definitely themes you would want to have associated with your restaurant.

Rooftop Restaurant Umbrella

Challenges and Advantages of Outdoor Dining Areas

An industry study has found that a $200,000 investment in the creation of an outdoor dining area can lead to $500,000 in sales. And, even more – if you are able to offer year-round outdoor dining. Al fresco service is a major attraction for consumers, who love the enhanced experience that it offers. It somehow seems to make the food taste fresher and better, creates a more sociable environment, and adds some fresh air, sunlight (or moon and starlight) and even a view into the mix. The wide appeal to your market makes the advantages of creating an outdoor area quite clear:

  • It draws more customers,
  • It increases revenue, and
  • It improves the profile of your restaurant.

At what cost, though?
What are the challenges involved in setting up your outdoor service facility?

The actual capital expenditure is variable and depends on how much you are planning to do. If it is simply a question of purchasing additional seating and umbrellas, then you can set up your space very affordably. If you’re thinking of going all out, with a retractable roof, a fire pit, a water feature, and a bar, then your outlay will be substantial. The good news is that, as the study cited above seems to indicate, you are very likely to make a handsome return on your investment.

The other challenges to consider are mostly considerations around regulations and legalities, as previously mentioned. Make sure these are all taken care of before you start building and/or furnishing. Another important point is to make sure that you are 100% prepared for all weather eventualities. Think about this carefully.

Will you be able to offer year-round al fresco service or will it have to be a seasonal thing?

If you opt to make your new area available throughout the year, then you need to be prepared to serve, come rain or shine. This means you will need to factor in fans, heaters, umbrellas, deck covers, and an enclosure of some kind. If you know the weather is unpredictable, especially at certain times of the year, make sure you’re prepared for all eventualities.

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Outdoor Café and Restaurant Design Considerations, poggesi usa jok outdoor umbrella 3

Design Considerations

So much for the preliminaries; let’s get down to creating this wonderful new space of yours.


You may be building a space that doesn’t need any fixed shelter, in which case you will just require the appropriate number of umbrellas (more on that later). However, if you want to have a shelter of some kind, there are several options available. You may wish to install a simple awning. On the other hand, you may need something more intricate. For instance, if your outdoor area is a deck-type structure, you could opt for a wooden roof and open sides with roll-up vinyl covers. If you want a more deluxe look, you could invest in a retractable glass roof. This will keep your customers sheltered in bad weather and can be opened up to enjoy the warm air on sunny days and warm evenings.

Bar Facilities:

It is well worth setting up a full-service outdoor bar. While you will lose some of your seating space, you can create a high-profit drawcard as customers come to your outdoor area for cocktails on a summer evening. If you don’t have the budget for a full bar, you can always set up a station to serve selected drinks. Creating a dedicated cocktail bar where patrons can watch bartenders make specialized cocktails can not only be a strong attraction, but also a good money-spinner.

Outdoor Cooking:

This depends very much on the kind of fare your establishment serves and the kind of ambiance you want. You can, for example, have a pizza oven or a barbecue grill set up in your outside area. Or, you could have a sushi chef stationed out there. If that suits your cuisine, you could even set up a mini kitchen. Food transparency is a rising trend, and most customers are more than happy to be able to see their food being prepared, as well as enjoy the appetizing aromas that this will generate.


The ability to bring dogs into the venue is a very important selling point. For many pet owners, it could be a deal-breaker if they are not allowed to bring their fur babies with them, meaning you lose clients.  If you are willing and able to make provision for pets, you can even make them feel more welcome by setting up watering stations. Why not go the extra mile by creating a special pet menu? You will become the talk-of-the-town among pet owners. And, you could be drawing in a whole new client base.

Cafe Umbrella

Furniture, Decor, and Umbrellas:

Your decor and furniture are where you need to focus most of your attention. As well as having to provide comfort for your guests, the decor and furniture are at the center of the style, look, and ambiance of your area. Think carefully about what you’re going for. Do you just want to extend the look and feel of your restaurant’s interior? Do you want metal seats with comfy cushions, a more rustic set-up with wooden seating, or perhaps benches for that pub-like feel? There are many options! But, it becomes very easy to make your decisions when you just keep it in line with the theme and concept of your establishment.

Try not to just replicate the decor and furniture you have in the interior though. It is important to keep the patio/deck/sidewalk/garden on-theme. But, you should also allow it to stand out with something of its own. For instance, umbrellas can play a very important role to individualize the space. And, they are our specialty!

You have just as many options for umbrellas as you do for the rest of your decor. For instance, do you want to have one umbrella per table, with the shaft going through the center of each table perhaps? Or, do you want larger, cantilever umbrellas covering large parts of the outdoor area? The answer is a matter both of your chosen style and the size of the area you need to cover.

Selecting the right size umbrellas for your restaurant’s outdoor area is not something you should take lightly. You not only need to make sure that every table is properly protected, but you also have to ensure that the area still looks tidy and uncluttered. So, you need to measure carefully and work out exactly what amount of coverage you will need. If you’re unsure how to make these measurements, you just need to know these basic principles and you will have all the info you need in no time:

  1. Firstly, measure your tables. You may have many of the same sizes. Or, possibly you have different sizes to cater to groups of varying sizes.
  2. Once you have measured them, add 2 feet onto each side. This will give you the approximate umbrella size you’ll need to cover each table. So for example, if you have a round table that measures 4 feet across, that means you need an umbrella with an 8-foot diameter to cover that table.
  3. Using this as a basic rule of thumb, multiply that figure by the number of tables you have, and that will tell you how much umbrella coverage you need across your entire area.
  4. Keep in mind that you will need to make adjustments based on how much floor space you actually have as well as how you intend to space your tables out. You can then decide how big you want your umbrellas to be. For instance, you may opt to have fewer but larger umbrellas rather than several smaller ones. The choice of fewer, larger umbrellas in this type of setting tends to be the more cost-effective, space-saving, and aesthetically pleasing option. However, this will depend on your space and preferences.
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Sidewalk Cafe Orange Umbrellas

There you have the main considerations to mull over as you plan your outdoor dining areas.

As you get into your outdoor dining area design, contact Poggesi USA for advice on how quality umbrellas can be incorporated into your design and layout.