The Scottish climate may be closer to Oslo than Orlando in the winter months, but there are still plenty of reasons for customers to step out into the beer garden on colder days and nights – and it’s down to publicans to make this as pleasant an experience as possible.
Despite the elements being against the trade, outdoor furniture and equipment suppliers reckon there are steps operators can and should take to make their outdoor area hospitable during the winter months.
Helen Reynolds of Shading by Design suggested that publicans in the Scottish trade have an even greater impetus to improve the comfort of their outdoor areas in the months ahead compared to those operating venues in the south.
“As temperatures are generally colder and the weather wetter and with more snow than the south it is even more important to offer a comfortable outdoor area not just for smokers but for hikers, dog walkers and cyclists too who may not want to take off their outdoor clothes and muddy boots while they have a sandwich and a pint,” she said.
Reynolds suggested that operators should aim to protect their clientele from the elements as much as possible during the winter months.
“Provide some kind of ‘roof’ to keep out the rain, preferably retractable so that customers can enjoy the sun when it does shine, for example an umbrella, awning, terrace awning.
“Provide light and heat and, if possible, some type of screening to keep out the wind,” said Reynolds.
Heat in particular is a key consideration for outdoor areas north of the border, and Reynolds highlighted a variety of approaches publicans can take to create a more convivial climate for their customers.
She said heaters can create a warm and welcoming atmosphere and suggested operators consider using low energy heaters which can be “wall mounted or fixed to umbrella masts” as a potential solution.
“An alternative could be a wood burning stove which would give a cosy feel to a covered outdoor area,” added Reynolds.
“Good but subdued lighting also gives a welcoming atmosphere and of course some kind of cover.”
Jan Dammis of hospitality furniture supplier Go In agreed that it is crucial for operators to create a hospitable outdoor environment for their customers, adding that publicans should think of the area as their “business card” to passing traffic.
“Make it a good or even better representation of your style indoors,” said Dammis.
“Modern, funky, classic or contemporary – your outdoor style and quality should ideally match what’s indoors.”
Publicans should look to provide “comfort, style and quality”, according to Dammis, who added that this can be achieved by making “small but significant gestures towards additional comfort”.
“For example, offer seat cushions and warm blankets for chillier evenings,” he said.
“These can be inexpensive but very effective at persuading customers to stay longer to enjoy a second or third drink.”
Another key consideration highlighted is the layout and flexibility of the outdoor area, according to Dammis, who suggested publicans “go for flexible arrangements so that changes can be made quickly and easily”.
“For example, specify a number of the same sized small tables, which can be arranged individually or used together if you have group bookings,” said Dammis.
While style and layout are key, quality is also crucial and should be a top priority when purchasing outdoor furniture – both from an economic point of view for the publican and for the impression it will leave on customers, Dammis suggested.
“Make sure the furniture is robust, easy to maintain and well looked after to make sure it stays looking good,” he added.
“Remember, this is likely to be the first things potential customers judge you by.”