Outside areas can bring a real boost to business
WITH the weather still on the chilly side, it’s difficult to believe that spring and summer are just around the corner.
Yet for operators with outside areas it’s never too soon to start planning for milder conditions.
When it comes to attracting customers during brighter days, it’s sometimes what is on the outside that counts.
Ian McColm, owner of Glasgow cocktail venue the Tiki Bar and Kitsch Inn, reckons that a decent outside space can present a key point of difference to customers, appealing both to smokers and those who enjoy al fresco dining.
“The lunch trade on Bath Street isn’t amazing but you find when the weather’s good we’re full for lunch outside most days, which is great,” said McColm.
The team at Tiki Bar has been developing the outside area over the past year, and now operates an external bar on the site, with more developments planned in the near future, including the installation of exterior TV screens for live sporting events.
“The big sporting events take place in summer, so people watching things like the Commonwealth Games out there will be great.”
And McColm believes that a strong outdoor area can also help improve the perception of the premises – particularly when it comes to the food offer.
“Even things like window boxes, which we’ve got a lot of; if people see that you can look after your plants then they’re more inclined to think you might put a bit of care into your food,” he said.
An operator’s ability to maintain their outside area is, of course, a crucial consideration when planning what to do with the space. There is little point in spending money on furniture, equipment, and so on, if it’s not going to be looked after.
Maintenance is something Ayrshire operator Buzzworks takes very seriously.
Several of its venues, including Elliots and Dome, both in Prestwick, Scotts in Largs, Longhouse in Kilmarnock and Treehouse in Ayr, have outdoor spaces and the group employs a maintenance team to make sure the areas are always in pristine condition.
Director Kenny Blair told SLTN the upkeep of the company’s outdoor areas takes a lot of work.
“We always try and design them with that in mind,” he said.
“The [outside area] at Elliots is glass, [with] stainless steel, granite and furniture designed for use outdoors. And we have a maintenance team that power wash it.
“If you’re anywhere near the coast, you’ve got to take into account the sea air, because it can absolutely ruin everything.”
In the next 12 months the company is planning to refurbish the outdoor area at Treehouse, with Blair saying it intends “doing something luxurious” at the site.
And, according to Buzzworks, finding the right equipment is relatively straightforward.
“A trip to ScotHot in March and you’ll find a lot of suppliers have got furniture,” added Blair.
Furniture is not the only way to brighten up an outside area, of course.
In Dumgoyne, the Beech Tree Inn has spent the last eight years building up its outdoor area.
In addition to seating for 260 covers, there are outdoor play facilities for children and even a collection of animals.
Owner Lynne Alldritt said the garden has been pivotal in targeting the family market and establishing the venue as a destination pub.
“If the kids are happy then the parents are happy,” she said.
“If you get two females coming in to have something to eat they can have a blether because the kids are entertained looking at the animals or on the play equipment. It just puts us more in the family market.”
Describing the development of the Beech Tree Inn as “an ongoing thing”, Alldritt said it is important that customers see the continued investment in the business.
“I like to keep the Beech Tree changing constantly, so that people can see the difference and see the money put back into the place,” she said.
“It’s ongoing, just making the whole place look nicer but keeping it country-ish. The last thing you want people to do is arrive out in the country and feel as though they’re in the city centre.”
The animal collection at the outlet includes two goats, six rabbits, six ducks, 12 zebra finches and four quails. During the summer months the menagerie also includes a Shetland pony, borrowed from a local farmer. As well as entertaining the younger customers, the animals have also provided a platform for raising money for charity.
Selling duck food at 50p a bag, the Beech Tree has raised £7500 for charity.
As with Buzzworks, maintenance is a major factor at the venue.
“It takes a lot of maintenance,” admitted Alldritt.
“We’ve got a lot of wood now so it’s like the Forth Road Bridge. I was out painting yesterday and it’s just constant throughout the year, just to maintain the wood and to keep it looking nice.
“There’s nothing worse than a tatty fence so it’s ongoing constant maintenance.”
Together with cleaning and painting the outdoor furniture, caring for the animals takes commitment in terms of both time and money.
However, Alldritt said it is important to offer customers a point of difference.
“I think it’s always been important,” she said.
“If you’ve got good weather people want to go outside. I don’t think it’s any more so now.
“But I think you maybe need to add a little more in, like we’ve done with the animals, which gives it that little bit extra. There’s not that many places round about that have the space for animals, so that gives us that unique selling point.”
Images – Top, Family-friendly: the outdoor space at the Beech Tree Inn is designed to appeal to families. Above, The terrace at Scotts at Largs yacht marina features glass, stone and stainless steel. Buzzworks director Kenny Blair said hard-wearing materials were chosen to withstand the elements and sea air at the west coast venue.