Don't let the grass grow: Outdoor furniture

By Stuart Stone

- Last updated on GMT

If you have an outdoor space, it would be a waste not to try and make a revenue stream from it. Perhaps some new kit is in order?
If you have an outdoor space, it would be a waste not to try and make a revenue stream from it. Perhaps some new kit is in order?
Are you doing the most you can with outdoor areas at your pub? Don’t miss out on a money maker – especially with summer on the way

Since the introduction of the smoking ban in pubs in July 2007, customers seeking their nicotine fix have migrated to the garden while licensees have looked at the same outdoor space and viewed it as a potentially vital arm of a site’s business.

According to Tim Barr, general manager at Woodberry of Leamington Spa furniture, one of the most important aspects of a pub’s outdoor set up is ‘kerb appeal’ – how it looks to passers-by in order to pull in passing trade.

But how does a pub hit this nail on the head and turn their space into a year-round footfall driver?



Sound and vision

Pub gardens are increasingly being used as an extension of a site’s interior rather than a separate entity, which means for venues that create an atmosphere using music players or showing live sport, spreading your sound and vision operations outside is paramount.

Functional and fanciful

Gary Vale, managing director of Eden Furniture, explains that finding the right outdoor furnishings must fall within a ‘goldilocks’ zone between style and practicality. “When deciding how to make the most of your outdoor space, you’ll need to consider some practical aspects of furniture design.

“You may be lucky enough to be able to keep furniture permanently set up outside, but this does mean the furniture has to be able to cope in all weathers and stay looking good.

“If it doesn’t need to be constantly moved and rearranged, it can be a more robust design and build; many solid metal and wood designs meet this requirement.

“When furniture needs to be put away each night or when it’s not required, then you’ll want lighter-weight designs and foldable or stackable options; these features also minimise the space required for winter storage.”

Vale explains that while a pub’s outdoor space will, more often than not, be consistent with the décor emblazoned on the venue’s interior, it’s a blank canvas for those looking to make more of a splash.

“In some circumstances, there’s an opportunity for your outdoor area to make an eye-catchingly bold statement so that you stand out from local competition and draw customers towards your offering.

“Bold contemporary designs and vibrant colours are an excellent way for your furniture to stand out, but there are new takes on classic styles that are well worth considering.”


Outdoor cooking

Is a pub really a pub if it doesn’t have an outdoor wood-fired pizza oven or a meat smoker? Of course it is, but with a pub’s food offering more important now than ever, tapping into foodie trends in time for summer is a sure-fire way for a pub to get ahead.

With a jam-packed summer of sport just around the corner, commercial barbecue equipment, such as that offered by Cinders Barbecues, is a must for pubs looking to offer hearty snacks at a cost-effective price.


Wishing Well

This thought process is one that factored into Chris Tulloch’s development of the Wishing Well Pub in Lostock Hall, Preston – a pub Tulloch leases from Star Pubs & Bars through his company Blind Tiger Inns. He combined what he saw was working well across his 11 other sites and applied it to the site he was looking to develop.

The makeover cost a grand total of £80,000 and transformed a disused yard into a popular year-round space with a beach theme including a 4sqm parasol, five six-seater beach huts and plenty of heaters.

To enable the pub to play music and screen sports until midnight without disturbing local residents, Tulloch installed 12 outdoor speakers under decking. This keeps the volume low and audible only to customers nearby with the speakers on a separate circuit to the inside sound system to avoid accidental volume changes.

Tulloch also invested in a light sensitive 50-inch screen to allow sports to be enjoyed even in glaring sunshine. “When we first took over the pub there was a lot of either badly used, or unused space.” Tulloch explains.

“The main area, the actual pub area inside, isn’t that big, so we decided to turn the unused space into another space – one that’s actually bigger than the pub.

“The garden increases the pub’s capacity by 50% so any investment quickly pays for itself.”




The hardest-to-grasp aspect of the Danish art of cosiness – which has sidled up to Britain’s property improvers in the past few years and gave them a warm, fuzzy, hug – is working out how to pronounce it.

‘Hoo-ga’, for anyone unfamiliar, means to create a warm atmosphere and enjoy it with your nearest and dearest. It’s a perfect fit for the pub. Bring Hygge to your outdoor space with patio heaters, cushions, blankets and warm candlelit areas that your punters can enjoy at any time of year. 

Classic trends

However, while larger and louder garden renovations can catch a punter’s eye, Vale adds that more classic outdoor decoration styles can play an important role in fostering a sense of reliability and trust – citing tried and tested ‘Parisian café’ and ‘minimalist retro’ looks as sure-fire winners in this regard.

Drawing upon Eden Furniture’s range, he says: “These days, stackable chairs and armchairs are available with robust aluminium frames and all-weather woven seats and backs. The vintage look has also been reinvented and given a makeover with a whole new range of colours.”

The enduring popularity of classic design is echoed by Barr who cites the increase in popularity of “more comfortable styles with a bit of colour, typically soft furnishings as well as personal touches involving warmer colours.”

Eden’s Vale also explains that pubs can cash in on foodie trends, namely the rise of alfresco dining. “Investment in outdoor furniture is an excellent way of generating additional revenue by making the most of all the space at your disposal,” he says. “The balance between furniture price and quality is all-important though. Inevitably, paying more does buy higher quality, which looks better for longer but, of course, the investment is greater and takes longer to pay back.

“A good supplier should be able to offer sufficient choice of furniture and the expertise to guide you into making the correct investment decision.”



Original features

There’s a limit to how much originality and character you can bundle into an Ikea trolley and deposit in your pub garden. If you’re willing to apply a lick of paint, a dollop of elbow grease and maybe a few sweeps of a wire brush, you can craft original garden features – from the functional to the more fanciful – to get your punters talking using salvage yard gems, old timber or even a cut-price find on eBay.

Chris Tulloch of Blind Tiger Inns adds: “We’re getting a lot of furniture built from reclaimed products rather than just standard off-the-shelf pieces. We get a bit from salvage yards and a bit from reclaimed timbers that are relatively easily accessible then you get joiners to build from that to make the furniture fit the space rather than the other way around.

“There’s not a never-ending number of suppliers so if you want to look different you’ve got to go not so much off the shelf. Often it’s more expensive but it adds more character and looks bespoke.”

A bespoke solution

Barr concludes that, ultimately, originality is key. “We don’t apply a one-size-fits-all to customers, you’ve got to take the site and the direction of the business into account to drive the sales of that business, that pub, through outdoor furniture.

“Each case has got to be taken on it’s own merits, it’s literal surroundings, the particular environment in which it sits, whether it is urban, rural, coastal, all the different requirements and the direction the business is going.

“In terms of what their goals are: are they food-led, wet-led, or whether they’re heavy on events? All of that goes into the melting pot in terms of our recommendations of the right furniture for each site.”

Related topics Marketing

Related news

Show more


Follow us

Pub Trade Guides

View more

The MA Lock In Podcast

Join us for a Lock In