The Great Outdoors
Published on Apr 1 2013 4:07 PM in Technology
Maximising your outside space is a growing concern for restaurants in inner-city areas, where often small sections of footpath are all one can use to attract in or even seat any extra customer base. It’s nothing new, granted, as a walk down any street in tourist hotspots anywhere in Europe will see extensive seating areas along pedestrianized streets. However in Ireland, this is a growing scene. Take Dublin City, for example. Built before concerns for cars became the premium topic at any town-planning meeting, narrow streets and tightly packed sidewalks leave very little room for restaurateurs to steal an extra yard or two. However, there are those fortunate enough to have that little extra space, and those clever enough to utilise it. Given the erratic Irish weather – March 2012 was unseasonably warm while March 2013 was bitterly cold – it is safe to say that banking on a weather-based windfall would be a foolish business ethic. However, by just putting a little emphasis on what you can do right outside your door, there are certainly areas to help improve your bottom line.
As simple as having a blind installed above the entrance to keep the rain off smokers, to using windbreakers to pen in an extra few dozen covers, the potential is there, people just need to see it. “It's a real USP,” claims Rudy Cesari, manager at Dublin’s Unicorn restaurant, which enjoys a fine little outdoor seating area just off Merion Row, one of the busiest streets in the city.
The Unicorn enjoys a rare slot of space in such a congested part of Dublin – capable of seating 30 people at any one time. Ireland clearly lacks the weather to regularly utilise this space, but the appeal remains and drives business which neighbouring eateries simply miss out on. “It’s just for those few days that we have,” admits Rudy. “In the summer we might have 40 days that it’s warm enough outside to serve people. For those days we take five times our usual takings on our lunches and early dinners, but it's only just those select days. But it's quite appealing to passers by, which is a good benefit. We are very lucky when it comes to the summer time. We have a number of restaurants beside us and on a sunny day we might get 10 covers inside and 40 outside. Our competitors might just get the 10 inside.”
And it’s not just Dublin. Take a walk down St Patrick’s street in Cork or Ayre Square in Galway and you will see the growing number of heaters, giant umbrellas and retractable roofing adoring the exterior of various sized restaurants and pubs. In Sligo, for example, the Italian Quarter has emerged just off O’Connell Street. Within which Casa Mia, Bistro Bianconi and Gulliver’s restaurants have utilised the pedestrian street to great effect. A simple use of wind-breaker perimeter signage and a few giant umbrellas and the immediate outside of these premises enjoys seating areas that both attract and seat huge numbers of guests. “Our only real expense is paying for the heat,” explains Michelle Carty, manager at Bistro Bianconi. “Casa Mia – our sister restaurant beside us - has the outdoor seating area and it’s a huge selling point.” Michelle is delighted with the three restaurants’ utilisation of a space so close to O’Connell street, where 30 covers can be handled at any one time outdoors, and she is not stopped there. “Bistro Bianconi is a 120 seat restaurant but from this summer the council has given us permission to seat 96 people outside – we just need to go and order it,” she says with excitement. “It’s a visual point from O’Connell Street and from the river, so it really people in. We have two outside lamps just above the signage, so that generates the heat down onto it, and we have two very large umbrellas which covers the area. So, yea, again, the only expense is the heating.” There are numerous ways now to enhance your restaurant’s outside look, regardless of what you do with the space. Outdoor heaters are becoming ever more popular and, regardless of the actual amount of space outside, often installing these is the way to go. “After investing in heaters there is not much more investment to be done,” agrees Rudy. “And we would have them anyway to make the entrance more appealing. So other than that it’s not much. We have a company we deal with, Hygiene Matters, and they provide a floor surface outside for us that they come and maintain for us for not too much, other than that it’s really just what we would have done anyway.”
There are a myriad of devices on the market now to greatly improve the comfort of your outdoor space, while also reducing the cost of upkeep. A new unique Outdoor Heating Technology from CaterSave, the winner of the 2008 European Young Enterprise award, is now available as the most environmentally friendly outdoor heating solution on the market. It is an incredibly simple concept of a patented designed infrared heater, utilising a motion sensor and is fitted under outdoor tables. Not only does this next-generation technology ensure unrivalled warmth and comfort, it automatically switches on, only when customers sit at the table. Aesthetically pleasing to the eye, especially at night, the “welcoming glow” of the heaters attracts prospective customers as they pass by your premises, adding to your profits.
“We pride ourselves on the fact that it doesn’t waste any unnecessary energy, as our heaters direct the heat energy only on people seated around our tables,” says CaterSave’s John O’Callaghan. “This makes them incredibly cost efficient compared to traditional outdoor gas heaters (from in excess of €2/hour to just 7c/hour).”
CaterSave’s heaters work from the ground up, a stark difference from other products seen in the field. “When we get cold, our feet and arms are usually the first places to feel it, because the body protects its vital organs by reducing the blood flowing to its extremities. A typical outdoor heater on the other hand blasts heat downwards, overheating our heads while our feet remain frozen. Not only is this highly inefficient, it also creates an uncomfortable, almost feverish sensation. Real warmth and comfort comes from deep, uniform heat. Our Table Heaters ensures that warmth is absorbed by the feet first and then circulated up through the body. In this way we stimulate the body’s natural systems for the most efficient and pleasurable heat circulation.”
Unlike gas heaters, Heaters from CaterSave ensure you won’t have to worry about the risks of being burned. “Our infrared light waves only generate heat when they are absorbed by the body, and the special energy-saving, 0.4 kW Quartz shortwave bulb is also protected by a screen which is safe to the touch. Now you can truly create a warm family atmosphere without having to worry about the kids. Also, 5 Table Heaters can be inter-connected from the same power outlet, using the serial connectors at the bottom of the heaters.”
Outdoor socialising is now more popular than ever. The sight of a bustling terrace alive with people has become one of the enduring images of Irish hospitality, influenced by the ‘al fresco’ culture of our European neighbours. Exclusive Blinds Limited are the suppliers of Promoshades, a complete range of branded products designed to make us feel at home outside our bars, restaurants and cafés. Both tourists and locals alike can sit peacefully outside and watch the world go by. The streetscape of our cities, towns and villages now include valuable and vibrant areas which, when well maintained, will increase turnover. A well designed, well constructed terrace can start your season earlier and finish it later and allows you and your customers profit from your outdoor area.
"Whoever isn't thinking about it looking at their outdoor space is missing a trick," explains John McCormack, creative director at Exclusive Blinds. "It is a very difficult trading environment and everyone has to try and steal an edge."
It’s not uncommon to see giant umbrellas outside pubs and restaurants with product names adorning them, rather than the venue itself. “Yes that’s how it often happens – drinks companies foot the bill. They approach us and tell us which bar or restaurant it is which they want to help out in and we draw up some options for them.” And with many suppliers making the investment, there really is little reason for restaurateurs or publicans to entertain the idea – especially not the weather, it seems – especially since the introduction of the smoking ban forced many a punter onto the streets for a puff. “The weather really shouldn't come into it at all,” explains McCormack. “As long as you have it well fitted, covered and heated, then the weather is often irrelevant - unless it is some freakishly bad wind or something. It's an outdoor room, not just an open space. Once you realise that you are grand. There are more places that can accommodate this type of expansion then you think. In Dublin 2, granted, the area is terribly restricted, but we operate nationally and almost everywhere else there is always a way to improve what you have. I think the whole area would have taken off even without the smoking ban factor. In our business, we have been to places as far away as Australia and Alaska, and it was in these places that we really noticed how Ireland was lagging behind in this area". Promoshades provide a range of printed internal and external window blinds, promotional interior and exterior banners and branded outdoor windbreakers for the commercial and retail sectors. For over ten years, they have ben the leading supplier of the Promoshades product - a range consisting of award-winning internal and external blinds, banners and windbreakers - to the hospitality and leisure industry in Ireland.