Taking the Inside Out

In a highly competitive market, it is important for hospitality venues to offer services and facilities that differentiate them from the competition, as well as make the most efficient use of the space available to enable them to generate maximum profitability.

One way to achieve this, is through the formation of a dynamic and exciting external area. A shift toward the continental approach to drinking and dining as well as some of the hottest summers on record in the UK has driven an increase in the development of beer gardens/ al–fresco dining areas. The sites without external areas have found themselves struggling in competition with those that do. No matter how nice the venue, customers still prefer to sit outside on a hot summers day. A well-designed external area’s use  can be maximised beyond the warmer months with the inclusion of heated shelters( be they retractable awnings, fixed pergola structures, beach huts or similar) and the provision of blankets, fire pits and hot water bottles.

The creation of formalised beer gardens is particularly useful to those sites that have a limited internal trade area but an abundance of external space which can be re-utilised to increase the overall trading foot print. More bums on seats generates more sales and increased turnover.

An external drinking area can still be a great boon to land locked sites (particularly in city centres) where external space is at a premium. A simple street café licence allows the venue to position benches/ tables etc within a designated and managed area on the pavement. The presence of customers sat outside a venue immediately makes it appear more appealing to passing trade. For those venues that desire more than a street café licence can offer, there is also the option of roof top terraces, although there may be a number of restrictions, both construction and statutory, dependant on the sites location and it`s local authority requirements.

When it comes to the spatial arrangement and design of your external area, several factors should be taken into consideration at the initial stages, to ensure the space is intelligently laid out and maximises its usability.  Examples include; the site orientation to the Sun, proximity to residential properties, Licence restrictions, topography of the site and Equality act legislation and budget to name but a few.

Once the location of your external area has been agreed the next step is the consideration of finishes, boundaries, furniture and lighting. How do you want the space to feel? Generally, it is advisable to maintain a coherent theme between the interior décor and the external area especially if it is possible to view both areas at once, for example if you have a large glazed façade or bi-fold doors opening between an internal area and the external, as the clashing of two opposing styles or themes may detract from each other. This, however, is not a hard and fast rule. If there is a clear separation between the interior and exterior it is perfectly possible to treat the external area as a separate “zone” within your site which has the potential to increase the scope of your target market as your overall appeal is increased.

There is no right and wrong in terms of colour palette, bold bright colours allow your site to achieve an immediate customer impact and can convey a summery feel (even when the weather is anything but) whereas the brain associates rustic and autumnal colours such as golds, browns and reds with warmth and comfort as well as stimulating appetite and mental activity. The use of finishes like timbers, stones and galvanised metals provide an ideal contrast to the statement colours introduced, not just by paint finishes, but also through soft furnishings such as blankets and cushions. Further colour can also be introduced with a well-considered planting and landscaping scheme.

When it comes to external furnishings there has never been as wide a variety of options to choose from. Fixed booths or loose sets, dining height through mid-height to poseur and materials including traditional timber sets, aluminium, plastics and rattan provide endless scope for creating your perfect beer garden experience. Whilst the mention of aluminium and plastic immediately brings to mind the cheap café sets of old there has been remarkable development in this area and many contract furniture suppliers have developed ranges that look like wood, distressed paint or rattan without any of the drawbacks of those materials, such as the requirement for continued maintenance.

Booth seating is as popular in beer gardens as it is on internal schemes and will often be the first seats to be fill up, however, it does have its limitations as it can reduce the flexibility of the garden and reduce the number of potential covers due to its size. We find that a balanced mix between fixed and loose furniture optimises the potential of your external space. The provision of fixed booths ensures an area that is cosy and inviting (usually best situated beneath a covered shelter to maximise its use in colder weather) whilst loose furniture offers the ability to adapt the layout to suit customer requirements. When specifying loose furniture, it is always important to keep the equality act in mind and ensure that there is a variety of heights and sizes including tables with overhangs to accommodate wheel chair access. Another thing to consider when purchasing loose furniture is its storage when not in use. Depending on a site’s location furniture has been known to “go missing” overnight (presumably to be found again in someone’ s back yard). To combat this, furniture can be specified as stackable and housed in a designated storage area overnight, however not all sites have the luxury of an abundance of storage space, in which case chains and padlocks can be utilised to secure furniture items. In addition, we would always advise the installation of an external CCTV camera system looking over the beer garden, even if it is not a requirement of your licence it proves useful for managing the area without the need for a permanent member of staff outside at all times as well as acting as a deterrent to the criminal elements.

One final comment on loose furniture is durability. It is imperative that all furniture (as well as upholsteries, lighting etc) are of contract quality and able to withstand the heavy use they will receive in a busy public beer garden. Whilst it is tempting to buy cheaper domestic products these will not stand up to the rigours of use demanded of them and, apart from the potential health and safety risk they pose, you will often find yourself having to replace items within a relatively short space of time. Buy cheap, buy twice.

The possibilities when forming a beer garden are endless and we’ve barely scratched the surface here. If you have an external area and the desire to expand your site`s offer to include a beer garden now is the time to start the process in order to get the transformation completed in readiness for the spring and summer months. If you have any questions or are looking for some advice, please feel free to contact MGI to discuss your vision.

people sitting in front of table talking and eating