Out with the new: ideas for outdoor space

Miller & Carter on MerseysideFrom furniture to lighting, outside space should receive as much attention as a bar’s interior, reports Mark Ludmon

Space is at a premium in town and city centres but a courtyard, flat roof or small patch of pavement could be turned into an outside space that is a money spinner. “While destination pubs out in the sticks may be blessed with green space and plenty of borrowed scenery, town and city venues will have to be a little more inventive,” says Simon Street, associate director at architectural and interior design consultants SEA Design Group. “With a little operational tweak and some creative thinking, this space could be a great marketing element and increase your reputation and trade potential exponentially.”

He explains that the best outside spaces are those that match the venue’s demographic in the same way as the internal concept. “The trading spaces that really work are those that blend seamlessly. Link your inside and outside with synonymous materials, lighting and colour. Think about lighting to show off sculptural forms and the richness of your material selections. Create a sense of space, match furniture styles and think about subtle links of accent colours in both flowering plants and external fabrics.”

Simon, who is a landscape architect and a specialist in the hospitality sector, advises against “garish” painted walls and fake plants. “Use matt, chalky colours and real planting. The right planting pallet and proper planning can omit the need for expensive irrigation systems.” He recommends theatrical and sensory elements such as Creeping Rosemary, which can flow over edges into pathways, and Corsican Mint which will spread through paving joints and release scent when people brush past. Even better, he suggests planting herbs that the bartenders can pick freshly for use in drinks. “A well planned trade garden will look great all year and keep your day trade flowing.”

Furniture design

The pressure on bars to have an appealing outside area is greater than ever, says Stuart Smith, director of Warings Furniture. “It needs to be attractive, especially to people walking past. They are looking for something a bit different so it needs to stand out and have vibrant colours. Last year we saw a lot of customers opting for aluminium and teak styles, but this year the big trend is going to be vibrant colour. Bright outdoor seating is a sure-fire way of catching the eye of a passer-by.”

Warings’ Soy chair and table are not only hard-wearing but can also be painted any colour to suit the design of the venue, including vibrant colours. They were used last year to transform some pavement at the front of Black & Blue Restaurants’ The Archduke on London’s South Bank into a smart outside eating and drinking area, painted dark green to match the interior design palette. “Small square tables, like the Soy, can be butted up together and so are ideal for courtyards or street spaces and look chic too,” Stuart adds. “The range is also lightweight, has a small footprint and is easily stackable so can solve storage issues out of season. Ultimately, furniture should maximise cover numbers, so it is important to choose versatile items that give the freedom of flexible layouts.”

The challenge of uneven outside surfaces is addressed by the Flat table range which Warings introduced last year, featuring self-stabilising table bases. The system adjusts the bases to the surface below automatically and locks firmly into position until moved again. “There’s nothing worse than a wobbly table,” Stuart adds. “When you are in a bar or a restaurant, a wobbly table can harm the whole experience.”

With spring approaching, a new 2013 outdoor collection has been introduced by furniture and interiors specialist Andy Thornton. “In the UK, customers are increasingly embracing the pleasures of alfresco eating, drinking and dining, making it more important than ever to ensure your outdoor areas look fresh and appealing to attract those customers who are eager to spend their hard-earned cash,” says marketing manager Jerry Hodkinson. Its new Portofino furniture collection combines cutting-edge contemporary style with simplicity, seamlessly blending together an intricate wire mesh and a mild steel frame. It is supplied in a highly durable satin anthracite powder-coated finish. The range can be mixed and matched, with a choice of side chair and armchair, both stackable for ease of storage, a two-seater bench and four different styles of table.

At March’s Northern Restaurant & Bar show in Manchester, furniture specialist GO IN (UK) is unveiling a new take on the director’s chair from the Terrazza Collection, specifically developed for use in the hospitality sector. One model features a powder-coated aluminium frame in rattan look which, unlike solid wood versions, is durable enough for heavy long-term use in outdoor settings as well as inside. The seat and backrests of all GO IN’s director’s chairs are made of woven mesh, with hard-wearing, water-resistant, easy-to-clean and lightfast covers, available in a wide range of colours.

Stylish new designs have been launched by outdoor furniture specialist Gloster. They include the curved wicker-style Source, by German designer Mathias Hoffmann, which is made of a powder-coated aluminium frame with seat cushions and scatter cushions in a variety of muted colours as well as black. The stark simplicity of the Solo range, designed by Denmark’s Povl Eskildsen, comes from its chunky teak frame and cushion colours of taupe, charcoal or canvas. Art Deco from the 1920s inspired John Caldwell’s Casa range for Gloster, with bright stainless-steel accents and the dark metallic covering of the fine tailored upholstery.

Also new from Gloster is Dansk – a collaboration between Povl Eskildsen and US-based German outdoor furniture designer Phillip Behrens. The collection combines traditional and modern materials to create clean, tapering lines reminiscent of classic Danish design. With a solid teak frame and light colour options, they have a synthetic wicker seat for the dining chairs and a synthetic leather seat for the lounge chairs, plus satin glass or acrylic stone table tops.

Lighting design

In the same way as furniture, the quality of lighting design is just as important outside as it is inside. “A bar’s exterior lighting is almost always overlooked, mainly because the assumption is that inside is where the ‘fun’ is and, ultimately, that’s where the ‘punters’ are encouraged to be,” explains Paul Nulty, design director and head of practice at Paul Nulty Lighting Design. “This is a slightly naïve view though, predominantly because external lighting can be utilised in a number of ways to include enhancing the overall experience, attracting passing trade and encouraging people to stay longer.”

The façade and entrance are often forgotten when it comes to lighting, he adds. “Look at any high street and more often than not a bar front is the darkest ‘hole’ on the strip – usually because the interior lighting is – rightly – dimmed to provide ambience. The problem with this type of internal ambience is that it can fail to attract passers-by, so careful consideration is required that is both architecturally sympathetic and ‘exciting’ enough to capture attention.”

He says bar and club owners should look beyond just using a few tree uplights or a patio ‘floodlight’ to provide functional illumination after dark. “This is such a wasted opportunity because a terrace, garden or patio can easily become an extension of the interior space through mood and atmosphere, encouraging people to dwell. People only dwell when they feel comfortable so creating space with mood, contrast and drama is key to making the most of the external environment. In lighting terms, this means carefully balancing light levels, positioning light fixtures so they are not intrusive or glary, maintaining lights when lamps blow and, most importantly, understanding that good lighting is about creating intimate space that is a backdrop, be it through conversation, smoking or fun. It doesn’t require harsh ‘floodlighting’ of the space itself.”

Outdoor catering

Alongside alfresco drinking, barbecues and grills are proving a popular addition to outside spaces during the warmer months. “An outdoor catering provision should be considered as an extension to a bar’s current food offering,” says Franco Sotgiu, managing director of Inka Charcoal Ovens. “After all, a good alfresco dining option can significantly increase the spend per head as long as the same high-quality ingredients and standards are applied.”

Inka has introduced a range of charcoal ovens that provide the rich, smoky flavour associated with barbecue cooking whether used inside or outdoors. Because the Inka is a “closed” barbecue, it helps to maintain the succulent texture of the meat, fish and vegetables far better than can be achieved in an open one. The closed cooking chamber allows the chef to control the cooking, with a heat-resistant window for close monitoring of the burn rate of the charcoal and the food being cooked. Available in different sizes and in a mirrored polished finish, they can be mounted on a stand for easily moving from a kitchen to an outdoor area.

For bars with outdoor space, Call-Systems Technology (CST) offers a low-cost wireless system that allows customers to call waiting staff at the touch of a button to place an order without having to go inside to queue at the bar. The small weather-proof EasyCall button is installed on outdoor tables and, when pressed, transmits a signal to either a central display panel or to pagers worn by staff. “EasyCall can improve both table service and staff/customer relations because staff know exactly which customers require assistance and when,” says CST sales manager David Barrett. “Efficiently targeting service cuts down customer waiting time and staffing requirements while significantly increasing spend per head.”

Barbecues and other outside events can be a great way of attracting customers and building revenue but the outdoor space needs good protection from the elements, says Duncan Chapman, managing director of Inn Fresco. His company provides all kinds of outdoor solutions from furniture, lighting, AV equipment and heating through to parasols, planters and retractable roof systems. “We have carried out independent research which highlighted that consumers really value the alfresco experience and that a good outdoor scheme where customers can eat, drink and relax can provide a real point of difference,” he says. “Where our customers have installed outdoor solutions, they have never looked back. Many claim increased revenue of up to 65 per cent and relatively short payback periods mean that the potential return on investment is huge.”

DockBar Salford

Case study: DockBar, Salford

Fluid Bars, which hires out bars and provides bartenders for events, has made the DockBar in Salford’s MediaCityUK development into a pop-up that shows no sign of going away (pictured above). It was first awarded a contract by property company The Peel Group to run the outside bar last summer, where people enjoyed cocktails while sitting in deckchairs. The bar itself was built out of two shipping containers by WhiteCircle Creative.
The DockBar returned with a new look over the winter, increased in size with the introduction of a chic ski-lodge-style lounge building using three extra containers. Alongside live music and a winter-themed cocktail list, it is run by a team of bartenders including award-winner Jamie Stephenson, Max Laurence, Matt Short, Martin Taylor and Sam Tunstall.

Case study: Queens Picture House, Merseyside

A creative approach was taken by Harrison Ince Architects in devising a new outside space for The Queens Picture House in the seaside area of Waterloo on Merseyside (pictured below). “The aim was to create a space that was quirky and fun, to liven up the urban area in which the bar resides,” says Kay Brannon of Harrison Ince.
In a modern twist, AstroTurf was laid in a chessboard effect around the edge of the beer garden and glazed brick bond tiles were fitted on the walls, bringing a much-needed “green” element to the red-brick area. Oversized illuminated polycarbonate tulips were used instead of traditional flowers to give a contemporary twist on bedding plants. A central fixed seating area, formed out of whitewashed blockwork on its side, kept the construction visually “open” as well as providing a striking design element. “Inside the bar, the light fittings have a factory feel and this was continued outside to provide a seamless transition between the indoor and outdoor spaces,” Kay adds. “External areas have become increasingly important to the success of a pub and not just for smoking areas. Customers have come to expect a pleasant space to sit outside even in the unpredictable UK climate, using the tiniest of ‘yard areas’ but turning them into attractive customer spaces.”

Queens Picture House in Waterloo Merseyside

Case study: Miller & Carter, Merseyside

Mitchells & Butlers has invested in upgrading the outside area at its Miller & Carter Steak House in the Cheshire Oaks designer outlet retail park in South Wirral on Merseyside. There were chairs and tables but no covering so M&B called in Inn Fresco, a specialist in hospitality outdoor solutions. Two Schalletto parasols – both four by four metres – were installed to almost cover the whole outside area. They are robust but elegant and are easy to put up and down. They were matched by 12 fixed screen barriers, made from stainless steel with good-quality weather-proof fabrics and recessed ground tubes for easy removal.

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