How to make your outdoor space 'Instagramable'

By Stuart Stone

- Last updated on GMT

Creativity: unique outdoor and alfresco areas are more likely to increase customer dwell time and make it onto social media
Creativity: unique outdoor and alfresco areas are more likely to increase customer dwell time and make it onto social media

Related tags: Garden, Pub

Hot off 2018’s record-breaking summer and with hard-to-reach Gen Z-ers and Millennials favouring shareable experiences and mindful drinking, the future looks bright for operators getting creative with their outdoor space.

Visits to the on-trade have changed almost beyond recognition since the introduction of the smoking ban in pubs in July 2007. With Millennials and Generation Z supposedly spending less time in pubs and more on social media, they’re poised to change even more dramatically in years to come.

According to Kantar data, 52% of on-trade visits now start before 8pm with nine out of 10 taking place within a single venue, meaning that venues that can o er all-in-one solutions and keep consumers entertained in the same place will become more important.

While this shouldn’t panic operators into building backyard gimmicks or hastily investing in Millennial catnip like mini-golf – it does present a huge opportunity for publicans to strip away the standard benches and umbrellas, and create unique outdoor and alfresco areas more likely to increase customer dwell time and make it onto Instagram.

Unique outdoor and alfresco areas are more likely to increase customer dwell time and make it onto Instagram
Unique outdoor and alfresco areas are more likely to increase customer dwell time and make it onto Instagram

Range of influences

Brian Taylor, managing director of Cambridgestyle Canopies – a supplier of commercial canopies, entrance canopies and outdoor shelters – highlights that his company has seen a surge in enthusiasm for outdoor spaces from the on-trade after the smoking ban.

“We have seen the interest from the trade grow in providing customers with attractive outdoor areas, be it smoking, congregating or wining and dining,” he explains.

“There is much evidence to demonstrate that those who have invested in providing outdoor cover have seen healthy returns on those investments. If you see several pubs in close proximity, you will clearly see that customers congregate where there are outdoor covered facilities.

“In the early days, it was predominantly umbrellas or awnings but providers have worked hard to design more robust, long-life solutions. At Cambridgestyle Canopies, we have developed a range of aluminium and steel products that have a 25-year lifespan.” Additionally, Taylor highlights that outdoor solutions from further afield can be readily adapted to deal with Britain’s notorious climate.

“The very latest, state-of-the-art, bioclimatic pergolas have been developed from sunnier climates and adapted to cope with the many variant weather conditions we expect in the UK. We are installing in beer gardens, terraces and roof tops.

“We work closely with our clients to provide a bespoke solution, tailored to their needs and carefully calculate together the likely return on investment per outlet, be it operating 5,000 or one outlet.”

Moreover, operators need to ask several key questions of themselves before breaking ground on an outdoor project according to Taylor.

“Do I need more covers? Would I gain new customers? Would it improve ambience for my existing customers? Would it set me apart from local competition? What is the cost of a covered area? Number of covers? Projected return on investment timescale?”

Minimal disruption

Anthony Brazzo, director at veranda, carports, patio awning and glass room provider Diato Style, explains that, in his experience, outdoor areas are the most regularly neglected part of a pub.

“Developing gardens, patio space, decking or roof terraces into new or improved trading space, can not only increase your covers but, if executed well, create a unique selling point that will draw in new custom,” he explains.

Brazzo adds that the addition of retractable verandas, bi-fold doors, infrared heating, pergolas and canopies can not only increase the number of covers a pub can offer but transform a venue’s look and feel – with building work having little or no impact on trading.

“You can create a wonderful ambience for your customers at an affordable cost with minimum disruption to your business,” Brazzo explains. “In most cases, installation can be completed in as little as two to three days.”

“Following last year’s bumper summer of fantastic weather and World Cup fever, consumers across the country will be itching to make the most of 2019’s outdoor season,” explains Richard Samarasinghe, head of business development at interior design and architecture consultancy Harrison – which counts Fuller’s; Hall and Woodhouse; Mitchells and Butlers; and Young’s among its clients.

“There has been an explosion of outdoor concept spaces over the past two years and while many operators may not be able to compete in terms of scale, they can certainly take inspiration.

“Franks Café in London’s Peckham is situated on top of a multi-storey car park and uses unique design in colour and pattern to transform the space. From the completely pink staircase to Richard Wentworth’s snaking, silvery ‘Agora’, which still graces the rooftop floor, paint and colour has been cleverly used to deliver some bespoke and create a certain hype for consumers.”

“Operators should consider the importance of colour in terms of, not only functionality, but how this communicates their brand and taps into the tastes of their customers. It goes without saying that this goes a long way to also helping create those infamous ‘Instagramable moments’.

Colour is crucial, says Brazzo
Colour is crucial, says Brazzo

“The next generation expect every element out-of-home to be of an aesthetic standard. It’s no longer the exception, it’s the rule.”

Consider your community

Samarasinghe adds that operators looking to revamp their outdoor space should establish the purpose of a redevelopment early in the refurbishment process before weighing up the types of materials that are most suitable in terms of durability and desired aesthetic.

“Functionality is key and the customer experience outside needs to be just as good as the inside. Use the space appropriately, and keep things simple and sleek,” he explains.

“To utilise your space as much as possible, and tap into the experience driven mindset of contemporary consumers, consider using the space in ‘untraditional’ ways. Film nights or pop-up yoga classes are all great ways to make sure you are maximising the potential of your space.

"Pubs are known for being community hubs, so why not extend this mindset to the approach for your outdoor space?

"A community-based initiative like a garden or allotment is one way to do this. Not only does it provide that sense of openness, but it can also allow you to grow some of your own produce or drink garnishes.

“Small touches can also go a long way to elevate the customer experience. Offering blankets and installing heaters can help extend customer stay both later into the evening, as well as keep
your outdoor space open in colder months.

“The British weather can be unpredictable as well, so depending on the set up, operators should also consider temporary or moveable shelter.”

Meanwhile, Pete Bennett of indoor and outdoor furniture supplier LeisureBench, explains: “Many people now want bespoke furniture, something different and, in many instances, more upmarket.”

Buy cheap, buy twice

Bennett explains that a growing trend for tailormade furniture has seen his company spraying picnic tables to specific colours, branding made to measure awnings, parasols and planters, supplying wooden planters with logos burnt into the wood and picnic tables to a pub painted in Manchester United’s football club colours.

“This trend is further emphasised with new additions to our portfolio including scaffolding furniture – made using recycled boards for a vintage industrial look – and barrel furniture made from solid recycled oak barrels, sanded, treated and bound with galvanised steel hoops,” Bennett adds.

“Upcycling old materials is a growing trend, with LeisureBench being asked to source materials that can be given a new modern lease of life.”

However, Bennett stresses that operators take great care in marrying product quality with originality.

“Pub operators need to ensure they buy furniture that is fit for purpose and there is always a risk of a customer becoming injured if great care is not taken in choosing the right products,” he explains.

“There is a suing culture that has developed in the UK, so be careful about the quality you buy. If in doubt, seek advice from a specialist.

“Another tip is to check and replace all furniture that is worn out. Check and re-tighten bolts and restain any furniture that is functional but looking shoddy.”

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