Navigating alfresco design this autumn and winter

Alfresco dining

Peter Tyrie, Managing Director of Barlow Tyrie explains how hospitality businesses can navigate alfresco design as the weather gets colder.

There’s no doubting, the pandemic has hit the UK hospitality industry hard. Although restrictions have now eased, countless businesses are still struggling to rebuild after what has been a truly devastating period for many, both financially and emotionally. Since restrictions began to ease in May this year, consumer spending within the industry has increased, yet according to ONS figures it remains at 70% less than pre-pandemic levels. However, despite the considerable challenges faced, we’ve seen some amazing courage, ground-breaking initiatives, and solutions to problems and ideas from the sector which will help it recover. 

Whilst there is an understandable degree of realism and rationality from operators and investors alike, there is also a strong sense of optimism that will help hospitality bounce back. Minds are firmly focused on the future, and organisations are constantly putting time and effort into assessing this post-pandemic landscape and what they can do to attract fiercely competed for custom. 

Outdoor dining has enjoyed a surge in popularity thanks to the pandemic, and more customers than ever before are keen to enjoy establishments alfresco. As a result, we’re seeing an increasing number of owners and managers seeking ways to maximise their outdoor space and alfresco design, to entice as many drinkers and diners as possible, while ensuring that people feel comfortable and safe.

This turn towards outdoor dining has encouraged a great deal of thinking outside the box. Now, everything from formal outdoor dining areas to beer gardens and even car parks, are being carefully scrutinised to see how they can be used to increase covers, and we predict a number of outdoor design trends are set to dominate the market, certainly for the tail end of this year and into 2022 too.

Cosy up!

Many operators will be looking at clever ways to enhance their outdoor areas beyond the essential furniture to make these spaces weatherproof. As such, installing heaters and investing in cosy, quality blankets to keep customers warm will become invaluable investments for outdoor spaces, particularly as we enter the cooler months. The warmer customers are, the longer they will stay. 

Outdoor fire pits soared in popularity both in consumer and trade markets during the depths of lockdown, and this trend is set to stay for the foreseeable. Not only do they look attractive, but they also help to create a cosy and inviting ambience that will continue to entice customers well into the winter months. 

Further, outdoor spaces can be easily zoned, whatever the size. For restaurants, this might be two sections, one for formal dining, the other, for more casual for drinks and lighter bites. Here the choice of furniture can have a real impact and for this example, you could consider mixing standard dining tables and chairs in the formal dining area and juxtaposing them with higher tables and stools combined with some luxurious armchairs and low drinks tables, for the more laidback drinks area to distinctly separate the two. At hotels, a recreational area that offers sumptuous deep seating options for lounging and relaxing could also be incorporated.

Eco-conscious alfresco design

In line with changing consumer tastes and trends, many establishments are becoming increasingly eco-aware, adopting a sustainable approach when looking to refresh or enhance any aspect of the venue, including the outdoor furniture. We’ve noticed customers are asking important questions regarding the sourcing of raw materials, and are keen to know exactly how the furniture is manufactured. 

Natural wood from sustainable sources is a brilliant, eco-friendly option, that’s guaranteed to withstand continuous wear and tear, making it ideal for hospitality environments. We’ve certainly noticed a recent resurging interest in teak, particularly in a mixed application with powder-coated aluminium or stainless steel frames. Overall customers seem to be gradually moving away from unsustainable, woven plastic furniture options, and opting for quality pieces that will serve them well for many seasons to come, as well as also investing in pieces that reflect customers evolving attitudes towards the environment.

Carefully crafting wow factor 

As we emerge from the pandemic, many are excited to be able to visit hospitality establishments once again, following such an extended period of limited travel. With long-awaited trips bring high expectations from guests who will have parted with their hard-earned cash to enjoy a little R&R. Some may even have more money to spend as a result of over a year of restrictions and being confined to their homes. No doubt we’ll see many hotels, restaurants, pubs and bars create a luxurious environment with wow-factor, making the experience the best it can be to make their venue memorable and drive repeat business. 

Chic aesthetic 

In this post-covid world we’ve seen that guests still like to feel spaced out from fellow customers to allow for social distancing. In outdoor areas, quality furniture with clean lines, complemented with a few, carefully curated statement pieces, can be remarkably effective when looking to establish an atmosphere through alfresco design. 

If you like the sound of this for your venue, focus on investing in pared-back dining sets, complemented with some more elaborate seating options. Timeless pieces such as Sissinghurst or Rothesay benches, dotted around the space can help to inject some all-important character in the area. 

While our bold colours fly in the consumer market, on the whole on the hospitality side more muted, ‘natural’ tones are favoured, particularly for the upholstery of the seating and cushions. This enhances the overall drive towards sustainability, organic grass greens, smooth stone, earthy ochre and creamy canvases will dominate colour palettes heading into AW21 and the new year. This refined aesthetic allows for further flourishes to be added to the table setting to bring it in keeping with the rest of the venue. For those wanting to make a bigger statement with their outdoor furniture, certain strong colours including inky blues, vivid indigos and mimosa yellows are proving popular for autumn and winter. 

Take cover!

There’s no doubting the English weather can be unpredictable, so ensuring the outdoor space can be used come rain or shine is essential. Providing appropriate coverings to shade from the sun or keep customers dry is essential. While they serve an important purpose, they also double as a rather nice statement piece. Canvas awnings in a striking colour will add character to the space, as will wooden shelters or pergolas from companies such as Jacksons Fencing, which can be easily adorned with festoon lighting to create even more atmosphere. 

Although this summer has been very damp on the whole, we have been promised a heatwave as we move into September. Last year was reported as one of the warmest years to date and we saw this reflected in our parasol sales. So although summer is almost over, it may well still be worth your while investing in this particular category as outdoor areas expand and unpredictable weather patterns take hold.