Dining outdoors is an essential part of Australian life, but we forget how tropical many areas are. Last year, Sydney and Brisbane followed Darwin as the wettest cities in the country, and no one wants to remember the floods and storms last summer. It can be windy and cold in winter and stinking hot in summer, so operators need comfortable, flexible and usable spaces 12 months of the year.

Well-ventilated spaces with fresh air are now preferred by many health-conscious customers, and there are also incentives on offer from local councils to expand your seating area outside. Here’s an action list to create usable spaces all year round.

  • Invest in a weather-proof roof that opens when needed. While a louvre-style is more expensive, it can give instant protection and there’s a fast return on investment. Roll-down plastic curtains are a quick fix, but can start to look tired within 12 months and need to be cleaned regularly.
  • Traditional gas and electric systems are expensive to run, so check the options for radiant heating. Gas mushroom heaters and visible flames create enough heat and atmosphere for many people, and there’s surprising tolerance for cold air if it’s not windy.
  • Opt for strings of bud lights for lighting; a few rows of coloured bulbs can create instant happiness, too. Use a commercial grade for the right level of illumination. Bunches of cheap paper lanterns can also work well.
  • Check out a wide range of industrial fans to keep air moving. Ensure fans provide broad, gentle coverage and keep them clean – it looks tacky when the blades are dirty. Misters also provide pleasant relief if they can be installed in the space.
  • Stylish chairs are an immediate ‘quality signal’. Cheap furniture from discount homewares shops can be off-putting for patrons. Inside chairs don’t work so well outside, so it’s important to invest in sturdy and stylish options.
  • Fix tables that rock and roll by using adjustable feet and encouraging staff to keep an eye on the dining area.
  • Go lush with the plants and garden atmosphere. The most striking effects I’ve seen have professional maintenance, and the results are impressive and delightful. Installing plants can be an important part of increasing average spend. Quality surroundings go hand-in-hand with slightly more expensive menu pricing.
  • Create Instagram-ready corners and backgrounds; you’ll be surprised at what is photographed. Subtle reminders of your hashtag on menus will lead to photos you can reshare online.
  • Heavily feature your outside space on your website and social media posts. Invest in quality photography taken at various times of the day of your space and menu to encourage patrons to give your venue a try.
  • Use the space for a range of occasions. If it’s enclosed, someone will book it for a small wedding or party. Share photos of the space when it’s been set for a function and promote it on your website.

Image credit: Hidden City Secrets