How to create the perfect al-fresco dining experience

How to create the perfect al-fresco dining experience

Pubs were hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. The whole industry was effectively brought to a halt by lockdown and the brief re-opening of the sector provided modest signs of recovery.

The ongoing containment measures have wiped 61% (14bn) off the sectors value (UK Pub Market Report, 2020) with a net loss of almost 6,000 licensed premises last year – three times as many when compared to 2019. However, the market is predicted to quickly bounce back and recover £9bn in lost revenue over the past 12 months.

According to Deloitte, young consumers will fuel the recovery of the sector once restrictions ease, with many looking to compensate for time spent in lockdown. This pent-up demand should see a strong uplift in sales for many pubs.

Now the Government has published its roadmap out of lockdown, many businesses can start preparing for the reopening of the sector on 17th May, with al fresco dining and beer gardens permitted from April 12th.

Outdoor dining is likely to remain popular even after restrictions end, so it is worth enhancing your outdoor space before the sector reopens. In this article, we look at 5 key areas to consider when enhancing your al fresco dining experience or beer garden.

1. Create the right atmosphere!

When designing your outdoor space, try to replicate the same feel you have for your indoors, as this will appeal to your existing customer base. Use similar décor and furnishing wherever possible, and make sure it fits with your branding.

Spruce up your pub garden or outdoor dining areas with some plants and flowers. Colour plays a significant role in gardens for all types of businesses. Certain shades are even shown to affect mood and experience, with some sources suggesting it can help boost sales.

Consider incorporating a bit of greenery into your indoor space as well. Indoor plants are a great way to transition your outdoor themes into your bar or restaurant area. Beyond the visual aesthetics, incorporating biophilia into your design has lots of other benefits too, including reducing dust levels and improving air quality.

If you have a view in front of your premises, make sure your design and layout highlights this as it will aid the sense of escapism. If you don’t have a view, it doesn’t mean you cannot have a great outdoor dining experience. With a little bit of creativity, it is possible to transform any yard or unconventional garden setting, into an outdoor space with a lively atmosphere.

Noise pollution will also impact the feel of a place, especially if you are located on a busy road, so make sure your design factors in ways to reduce this. Noise can also become an issue as the use of outdoor seating increases – complaints from nearby residents can become a real problem for some operators so make sure this is not overlooked within your designs.

Another big impact on atmosphere is weather, so make sure your outdoor space can still provide a comfortable seating area even on cold or rainy days. There are plenty of ways to incorporate cover items such as parasols or pull-out canopies.

2. Create something a little unique

A good pub experience is vital to securing repeat business. Over the years the traditional pubs have been put under a range of pressures, forcing many to transform the very nature of what a pub needs to be in order to remain relevant.

Pubs that have successfully responded to the changing demands of consumers, have done so through food-driven re-positioning. But for traditional ‘locals’ wanting to stay true to the notions of pub-first, stirring towards providing something unique can be the key component to remaining competitive.

Make sure your designs and finishes define what makes your pub uniquely different and special. Create an authentic experience with meaningful links to the community wherever possible. If the pub has ties to local heritage, consider this when designing your outdoor space.

Creating an outdoor setting that is different from the rest can really make your pub stand out. Even just introducing soft lighting to a pub garden can create a distinctive atmosphere. The trick is finding the right balance between the traditional and the unusual.

3. Ride the technology wave

After the first lockdown many pubs introduced smart phone apps to allow customers to order food and drinks from their table. This enabled many businesses to reopen safely without having to limit the number of customers being served at any given time.

However, there is some question as to whether this technology has a ‘wide appeal’ given that many pub operators state their most valuable and loyal customers are actually the retired population – a demographic that is typically less engaged with smart phone technology.

With this in mind, many of these valuable customers might not take advantage of this technology and have to request service from the bar. One of the drawbacks of a pub garden and outdoor dining experience, is customers normally have to traipse back inside for each round of drinks. A compromise between the two could be a wireless device – i.e. installing a communicator to the table that notifies the server their attention is required.

Another way to overcome this issue is to install an extra bar in the garden area. Pizza ovens and barbecues are also particularly popular in the summer months, so if you have the space available it could be worth considering including this in your designs.

4. Create zones and consider the needs for business professionals

A large pub garden can be greatly improved through ‘zoning’ creating distinct areas for different customer types. Pergolas can help delineate the zones whilst also improving the visual aesthetics of space, along with climbing plants and small shrubs.

Interestingly, as remote working increases, there is an opportunity for pubs to attract more customers. Business professionals were traditionally a target market for only 22% of pub operators, however this figure is likely to increase as peoples work habits continue to change.

If you are already starting to notice a rise in popularity with this audience, consider creating quite zones during the daytime where professionals can work effectively and review the facilities available to them.

5. Weather proofing your outdoor space

Beer gardens played a pivotal role in helping hospitality businesses survive summer 2020, although they are typically vulnerable to the elements and popularity can be seasonal. However, it is likely that the ongoing pandemic will keep demand high for venues with outdoor areas, even in the colder winter months – particularly if they can offer guests warm, covered outside seating spaces.

Although, it is not just rain and cold that you need to think about but also hot summer days. Shade is the first thing people look for on hot days, so you need to choose the best option to shelter them  from the sun as well as passing rain showers.

You can not afford to cut corners when sourcing the right equipment to protect guests from changing weather conditions. Make sure to research into the design and materials so that you can find a solution that will work all year round.

Let’s chat

We are fast approaching the end of lockdown restrictions and al fresco dining is likely to remain popular long after the sector reopens. If you need help improving your outdoor venue, speak to one of the team today on 0117 967 5923 or email

We only need to know what your budget is and what you want to achieve, and we can take you from concept to completion seamlessly. Check out some of our most recent projects by clicking here.