When it comes to al fresco dining, restaurants in all segments are doing more with less.
Whether it’s a sidewalk patio, a deck on the roof or back porch, or a back garden, restaurants of all stripes are increasingly offering their guests intriguing outdoor dining options. For many, it’s simply a matter of economics; with real estate prices skyrocketing, available space scarce, and operators under increasing pressure to boost traffic counts, many have found that outdoor spaces can double or even triple their seating capacity—and, perhaps, their revenue. Sure, such spots might bring on a new tangle of regulations and operational challenges—and there’s also the matter of foul weather—but as long as the dining public wants to pretend they’re enjoying a glass of burgundy along the Seine or a bowl of pasta in a Tuscan garden, operators are happy to accommodate them.
And while the fine-dining segment is coming up with perhaps the most innovative uses of outdoor space, the trend is certainly not limited to restaurants with white tablecloths. From upscale to casual and on down to quickservice, a wide swath of restaurants are taking it outside.
Restaurant - Sushi Samba Rio
Location - Chicago
Indoor Square ft. - 9,200
Outdoor Square ft. - 2,750
Number of Seats - 60 roof dining area, 30 outdoor cafe
Biggest Challenge - Dealing with Chicago’s unpredictable weather and the extremes of hot and cold.
Biggest Advantage - With a roof that is completely covered, and an air conditioner and heating system, the roof and cafe stay open all year long.
Why It’s Unique - The room’s tropical color scheme gives the feel of summer any time of the year.
Restaurant - Ono
Location - Hotel Gansevoort, New York City
Indoor Square ft. - 8,850
Outdoor Square ft. - 2,500
Number of Seats - 185
Biggest Challenge - Working within a limited amount of space to create several different looks and feels. Difficult to find companies to design the retractable roof and other materials that would hold up to New York City’s variable weather and climate conditions.
Biggest Advantage - Secluded, quiet space that seems far from the bustle of the hip Meatpacking District scene. Guests can have the best of any world by choosing the outdoor “room” that fits their mood: privacy in the fabric-draped cabanas; mingling in the bar area and beds; or refreshing in the landscaped garden.
Why it’s Unique - A retractable roof to protect against inclement weather, heaters, and heated seats encourage year-round use.
Restaurant - Terrace at the Willard
Location - Willard Intercontinental Hotel, Washington, DC
Outdoor Square ft. - 540
Number of Seats - 22 tables
Biggest Challenge - Meshing with the design of the Willard’s historic beaux arts building and working with community leaders to enrich the aesthetic appeal of the hotel’s surroundings.
Biggest Advantage - Location, location, location. Guests have views of the White House to the left, the Capitol Building on the right, and Pershing Park directly across while they enjoy beverages, cocktails, and a light menu.
Why it’s Unique - The ceramic mosaic café tables are reminiscent of the hotel’s intricate floor design composed of over a million mosaic tile pieces.
Restaurant - Michael Jordan’s The Steak House
Location - Grand Central Terminal, New York City
Indoor/Outdoor Square ft. - 1,500
Number of Seats - 90
Biggest Challenge - Summer heat.
Biggest Advantage - Having the exquisite Grand Central façade as a backdrop.
Why it’s Unique - The space was used as a holding area for taxi cabs until 2002.
Restaurant - Il Fornaio
Location - Palo Alto, CA
Indoor Square ft. - 6,725
Outdoor Square ft. - 575
Number of Seats - 90 seats; 13 tables
Biggest Challenge - Accommodating everyone who requests sitting outside on a beautiful day.
Biggest Advantage - Enhanced guest experience—great spot for a warm day, surrounded by beautiful flowers.
Why it’s Unique - There’s even a fountain!
Restaurant - OKADA
Location - Wynn Hotel, Las Vegas
Indoor Square ft. - 12,500
Outdoor Square ft. - 5,000
Number of Seats - 8 seats
Biggest Challenge - Providing lake, waterfall, and landscape views to the interior.
Biggest Advantage - Direct views of two waterfalls—the guest forgets he’s in the desert.
Why it’s Unique - Exotic Japanese garden with waterfalls and koi pond.
Restaurant - Fleet Landing Restaurant
Location - Charleston, SC
Indoor Square ft. - 6,000
Outdoor Square ft. - 1,320
Number of Seats - The wrap-around deck seats 100.
Biggest Challenge - The biggest challenge was the re-design and overhaul of the Fleet Landing building, a WWII Naval facility left vacant for many years. The successful result is an open space infused with maritime chic.
Biggest Advantage - The view of Charleston harbor.
Why it’s Unique - Surprising for a city by the sea, Fleet Landing is the only “come as you are” casual seafood restaurant in downtown Charleston with an outdoor deck overlooking the harbor.
Restaurant - Foreign Cinema
Location - San Francisco
Indoor Square ft. - 7,000
Outdoor Square ft. - 2,000
Number of Seats - 120
Biggest Challenge - Serving over 400 guests on a busy weekend night with limited kitchen space.
Biggest Advantage - Plenty of open space for tables.
Why it’s Unique - Combo of fine dining and foreign films.
Restaurant - ghostbar
Location - Palms Casino Resort, Las Vegas
Indoor/Outdoor Square ft. - 9,000
Number of Seats - 20 seats are set out for parties, otherwise it’s standing room only.
Biggest Challenge - A Plexilglas window set in the deck’s floor affords a clear view of the 55-story drop. But the window has to be continually replaced—guests’ high heels scratch it up.
Biggest Advantage - Unparalleled view from 12-ft. floor-to-ceiling windows inside and spacious open terrace outside.
Why it’s Unique - The open-air sky deck provides a nearly 360° view of the glittering Las Vegas scene below.