In the Zone.
Outdoor dining faces many of the permitting issues that all buildings have to follow, but patios also encounter additional zoning code regulations and restrictions. Policies vary widely from community to community. A bit of homework is necessary up front.
Outdoor spaces do come with additional concerns about special permits, noise and insects, according to Martens at Del Frisco's. "We make sure we obtain all the requisite permits, including health department approvals, liquor license approvals, etc."
Bravo Brio Restaurant Group has restaurants in 30 states, and each has different regulations, notes Doody. "We have no problem working with jurisdictions; however, it is important to find out what those codes are ahead of time."
"Communities regulate the size of outdoor spaces, you have to watch out for ingress and egress requirements in some places, and awnings sometimes have to be sprinkled for fire protection," comments Quaker Steak's Miller.
"Because we work with restaurant companies operating all over the country and in Canada, we are dealing all the time with municipalities whose interpretations of various codes and requirements differ," points out Tessarolo. "The architect has to perform due diligence up front."
Keep it Down.
Beyond birdsong and tinkling wind chimes, the buzz of traffic, clang of construction and other noise pollution can disrupt outdoor diners. Conversely, operators have to guard against guests disturbing neighbors with music and conviviality.
"Noise can always be an issue with patios, and most municipalities have noise restrictions to some degree," says Miller. "We want to be a good partner in our communities." Design elements such as shrubbery, trees and fences can help restrict sound, he says.
Doody reports not having much of a problem with noise at Brio and Bravo operations because the sound effectively dissipates into the open air. Indeed, ambient sound can be a plus. Some of the group's restaurants are located in lifestyle centers/shopping malls with a "town square." Says Doody, "If a band is playing in the square, guests will want to sit outside to listen."
Many Kimpton properties reside on busy urban streets where noise can be a concern. Also, the restaurants have to coexist with companion hotels, where some guests will want to party but others try to sleep. "It's a real push-me pull-you situation," notes LaMothe. "We haven't found a magic bullet."
Some solutions include placing restaurants and bars away from guest rooms and employing double-pane glass. He also adds that patio sound systems should create a convivial atmosphere, but they should be high quality with sufficient speakers — angled inward and downward — for the size of the space so the volume doesn't need to be cranked up too high for guests to hear the music.
Insects, flying and crawling, are a fact of life in the great outdoors but restaurant operators can alleviate that nuisance.
"Where flying insects could be a problem, we will include bug zappers in the designs," Miranda says. The devices lure bugs with light then electrocutes them with a high-voltage jolt.
"We keep our outdoor dining areas clean at all times and treat regularly for insects," advises Martens at Del Frisco's.
"Insects are always an issue outside," adds Miller, who says vigilance about keeping exterior dining areas clean is important. "We train front-of-house staff to keep wiping down the tables and clean the area thoroughly between shifts,"
Fire and Water.
It takes more than a few tables and chairs scattered on an empty terrace to make a popular patio. The best examples possess character enhanced by decorative features.
"Fire and water are huge attractors on patios,"says LaMothe. "We put in fire pits wherever we can." Pools are also popular, he notes. "People may not necessarily use the pool but having that water by the bar or dining area adds a certain sexiness."
One of Kimpton's more successful outdoor patios is in the historic Tariff Commission Building in Washington, D.C., which was converted to a Hotel Monaco. The center courtyard dining area contains an herb and vegetable garden that supplies the Poste Moderne Brasserie, the hotel's property restaurant. The courtyard seats 65 to 70 guests and also features a bar and barbecue kitchen. "The patio has evolved over the past 10 years and it's still a work in progress," says LaMothe.
Del Frisco's outdoor spaces often include fire pits or fireplaces, according to Martens. He adds, "We add landscaping with seasonal color wherever we can."
Water features such as fountains and reflective pools with decorative lighting are also very popular, Miranda adds. "They raise outdoor dining to a different level." Another trend he sees is planting herb gardens on patios, which is practical as well as decorative, and makes an impressive visual statement that the restaurant's cuisine is both fresh and sustainable.
"We are very big on fire pits," says Doody; about 20 Brio and Bravo restaurants have the fiery feature. Another dozen restaurant terraces are graced with flowing fountains. Although some terraces have an outside bar, a more successful configuration for the company is an inside/outside bar. In this design the restaurant wall actually cuts through the bar, with part inside and the rest outside so that the bar can service both aspects of the operation; sliding glass doors close off the space during inclement weather.
A Bravo Cucina Italiana under construction in Fort Worth, Texas, is revamping an existing restaurant that had a tiny terrace. "We are going to blow it out, increase the terrace to 10 times the size, to 3,000 square feet," Doody says enthusiastically. The revamped patio will include a covered terrace, fire pit and inside/outside bar with sliding glass doors. "People driving by will see a completely different presentation than the old restaurant, and drive right in to try the new Bravo," he says.
The outlook for well-designed outdoor dining is bright and sunny. "The biggest advantages are the flexibility and the options you give your guests," says Miller. Patios are an integral part of the Quaker Steak DNA. "When we do a conversion or prototypical layout, it's a must to include a patio somewhere, somehow."
Besides à la carte dining, patios are ideal for breakouts after meetings and other group business, points out LaMothe. He cites Kimpton's Hotel Solamar in San Diego, whose outdoor space exudes the atmosphere of the local Gaslamp District. The space has proved to be a tremendous asset for company functions and big parties, a boon for banquet and catering. "Patios," he concludes, "are another jewel in your crown."