“Forget the fairy lights!”: what makes for good outdoor hospitality design?

The hospitality sector is reopening following lockdown, with the government allowing revellers to once again visit in person, provided they eat and drink outside. With this in mind, we asked designers working in hospitality to share what exactly they think goes into a good outdoor eating space.
5 July, 2022
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“Covid-19 has produced an outdoor renaissance. Our views on hospitality have evolved rapidly, and having outdoor space is of increasing importance to venues. Designers are providing outdoor solutions to the pandemic but it is important to understand how consumers now have an elevated awareness of hygiene and proximity. Cautious diners will reward venues who use clever solutions to design safe outdoor space with on-going patronage.

In any outdoor environment sound dampening is an important factor for the longevity of the space. Neighbours can become regulars, or the source of regular complaints. While ambience is one of the key attractions for outdoor dining, designers should consider the importance of using discrete sound dampening materials as well as porous panel construction to create a sense of enclosure whilst maintaining necessary airflow

Disruption of the norm is always a drive for new thinking and the pandemic has offered designers, businesses and urban planners the opportuning to rethink outdoor design and respond with human-centric innovation.”

Amy Ingrassia, creative director at UXUS

“One of the most important considerations when designing for outdoor hospitality is to approach the guest experience in a way that enhances the specific site. Of course the design needs to be comfortable, beautiful and convivial, but if the site is next to a loud street or in a cold climate that will need to be addressed in thoughtful ways.

I recently went to Joy on Portobello by chef Stevie Parle in Notting Hill for dinner and was incredibly impressed with how they have created an exciting inside/outside space accommodating for government regulations by providing dining room tents around a courtyard embellished by large cacti, a bountiful flower shop as well as a lovely veggie shop. It felt very inspired, singular and fun.”

Charlotte Rey, co-founder of Campbell-Rey

“We’ve been super busy with people trying to open the high street. And there’s a lot of funding available for people wanting to help get the high street back open again.

We focus on Parklets and converting car parking space into seating for the public and this was popular even before the pandemic but obviously much more so now. One thing we’re providing places like Camden is a balustrade temporary pavement extension. If pavements were all 10 metres wide we wouldn’t have this problem, but obviously they’re not. This is a way around that.

But with all the best will in the world, if you’ve got traffic and idle cars near your outdoor seating, you have a problem. We’ve been increasingly incorporating pre-grown “green” screens into our parklets, which block out the road without obscuring the shop front completely. That way anyone enjoying a glass of wine with friends doesn’t have to also see a HGV cement mixer.

We’ve also seen some great work with timed pedestrianisation of streets — councils asking businesses to have their deliveries done by 12 o’clock and then closing the road off to cars so that outdoor dining can be more spacious. This is important, and side steps some of the health and ethical ideas around outdoor dining. If you’re asking people to eat at your establishment but the only space to eat is by a street with lots of idle cars, that’s not good for them.”

Habib Khan, director of Meristem

“In cities over the last 12 months we have been locked-down, made to wear masks and told that our social lives must fit into a single walk with a single person each day.

These edicts have forced totally new patterns of social interaction and, along with London councils minimising vehicular access to certain residential streets, have generated the potential for new belief and investment in the local neighbourhood.

We believe design for outdoor hospitality needs to capture this spontaneous, localised social spirit, exploring a new breed of hyper-functional, structurally parasitic interventions in the form of a family of subversive furniture pieces that create hubs through which to share food, wine, conversation and passion.

Borrowing from existing infrastructure like bollards, street-lights and bike racks, these pieces could transform existing objects into installations that provoke encounters, motivating people to be more inventive in their social lives and take control of our public spaces, seeing them as places of inspiration, engagement and joy.”

Ab Rogers, founder of Ab Rogers Design

“It’s true to say that good design has never been needed more in these times. We see perspex screens and vinyl curtains in restaurants, cafes and terraces and they make us shudder (not least for what all that plastic will do for the planet). They’re not the solution and we’ve been working hard to come up with more natural ways to make staff and customers feel safe and considered. At the same time as making the terraces we design comfy and cozy, full of creativity and atmospheric. Right now, we’re adding more plants and props, accessories and creative ‘divides’ to create private nooks and more natural, styled separation.

So that people feel they’re not sitting on top of their neighbours and have their own little corner. Whilst still feeling connected to the hum and the fun. In these times of Corona, we’re having to consider social distancing and zoning a lot more to create a practical, controlled flow, without killing the vibe completely. Designing outdoor spaces, no matter what size, is about creating a really lovely experience which entices people to spend time there, not just because it’s outdoors and ‘safer’.”

Anna Burles, co-founder of Run For the Hills

“In the last year, the change in customer behaviour has accelerated faster than anyone could have predicted. We hear that everyone is just bursting to get out and meet people again, right? Sadly this will not last unless new initiatives fundamentally add value to the guest experience.

The physical changes do vary widely depending on the inherent character of the space, but the main objective must be to extend the usage of the outdoor area. Ideas range from external dine-in pods, an increase in comfort and convenience, through to the more ‘Instagramable’ features. The rapid advance in the use of phone apps to order at the table is becoming more common but this can be further improved with the use of AI in learning about individuals’ habits along with the wider audience. Ideas to encourage diners back in a safe and welcoming way is one thing but an idea with return on investment in mind is another.

We must evaluate any initiative and question whether it both aides the operator in improving their service through efficiencies on ordering, delivery, and transactions and more importantly whether it improves the guest experience. As designers we are tuned in to help define this and to continually push these boundaries. Who knows, this time next year — fries delivered from the skies?”

Jon Bentley, associate director at Harrison

"Oh how incredible it feels after a year of intermittent fasting from social contact, not being able to hang out with others, we are finally able to hang up our headphones and escape the dreaded zoom social to hang out in real spaces with real people! When it comes to designing an outdoor, or in fact any space, I think the biggest factor is the feeling of human warmth. The encouragement of feeling at ease and enabling us to be at our best socialising, enjoying being out and also embracing the hedonism that comes along with the escape from home.

Terraces are popping up everywhere, from makeshift outdoor dining outside kebab shops to the lucky venues who already had outdoor spaces to play with. Foliage and ivy-clad walls, if you’re lucky enough to have them, are amazing. They not only make us feel like we’re in some kind of forest enclave but act brilliantly as acoustic baffles, deadening the harsh bouncing around of sound you get from hard surfaces. Lighting ideally is in that lovely golden sunshine at dusk, but as the evening progresses shouldn’t be harsh and should evolve in waves with the night, giving you a chance to acclimatise and still enjoy the feeling of the evening sky overhead.

Our recent Sourced Market project, opened during lockdown in Skelton Lakes, was an amazing foodie destination beside a wildlife reserve, and our lighting strategy there was all about soft layers to reveal textured surfaces like the Kent clay brick walls, but within quite an atmospheric space, good lighting overhead onto tables (recycled yoghurt pot terrazzo, no less) helps retain the intimacy between diners but avoids the ‘I can’t see my food feeling’ which can be really off-putting.

As for sound, the joys of birdsong and those inconsequential, easily-overlooked but soul-drenching tinkles are really important. We are ultimately connected the more human and real our experiences are. Don’t worry about the fairy lights but think about the subtle things that enrich us and subconsciously make for the ultimate social reboot, we all need it!”

Howard Sullivan, founder and executive creative director of YourStudio

“First and foremost, the outdoor space should be inviting — appearance and ambience are an important part of the hospitality experience. If the space is on a pavement, it should be designed where possible to encompass people, ensuring they feel separate from the street and traffic.

Planters and plants will divide an outdoor space: they’re practical, attractive, and make for a more interesting setting. A canopy/shelter is inviting and great for the unpredictable UK weather. Remember, in accordance with Covid regulations, at least fifty percent of any shelter must be open.

If a business has a garden, the outdoor space can be delineated by a raised level, such as a deck— this provides a different look and feel. For businesses with no garden, consider lobbying the local council, asking them to temporarily cone off an area of the street or even pedestrianise it altogether. And remember branding: bring the branding outside with a logo, colourways, and textiles.”

Cameron Fry, creative director and owner of Liqui Group

“Transporting people away from the stressors of the pandemic has been such an important aspect of the outdoor hospitality spaces we have designed in the last year. Creating a new world for an audience has a powerful effect on their experience, and simple gestures—such as visual fragments, cultural and collective memory references, symbols, and icons—are an effective way to do this and create intimacy on a rooftop or even on a bustling city sidewalk.

At Moxy South Beach, for example, we weren’t designing a lobby bar, we were designing for spontaneity, magic, and connection to happen in within a space that blurs the boundaries between indoors and outdoors, which is what people are really missing and craving.”

Greg Keffer, partner at Rockwell Group

This article was written by Molly Long, and first appeared on DesignWeek:

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