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How outdoor spaces will increase the success of re-opening the hospitality industry.

Shades of Comfort

Ask the man or woman in the street and odds-on top of the list of things they are looking forward most is getting back to seeing family and friends and meeting up at pubs, restaurants, and hotels, as soon as they are legally able. Businesses need to be prepared and make changes for this inevitable influx in demand. The hospitality industry has been under immense financial strain over the last 12 months and action needs to be taken to help this popular industry recover. It has been said that a financial support package worth £35 billion may be required to safeguard 500,000 hospitality jobs. The industry though also needs to play its part and do all that they can to increase sales when the industry reopens.

For the industry to recover, they must find means to increase business, as well as staying safe. A key solution is utilising outdoor space, which could be the difference for many businesses between thriving or collapsing. Part of the lobbying by the hospitality sector has been a campaign asking the government to help restaurants and bars work with social distancing guidelines by permitting outdoor dining. Though of course the industry has been quick to point out that this will not help all.

We now have what the Government has sometimes called a roadmap that subject to a number of caveats gives an indication of when different businesses might open and on what basis. Some of the detail is still lacking but it is suspected that once again all tables will have to be two meters apart, which significantly reduces usable space. Consequently, many bar and restaurant owners as they did under previous restrictions will turn to serving guests in outdoor tents and temporary structures. These structures need to be robust but the question still remains whether they will be fit for purpose for the longer term near normal. Many of these measures are something of a sticking plaster with no residual benefit for the business, which is why many businesses are starting to turn to products like high quality retractable roofs, awnings and umbrellas to better utilise outside space.

Increasing airflow and distancing has been proven to reduce the spread of Covid. However, simply reducing seating is not a financially viable option, as it will result in a huge reduction in customers. Therefore, utilising outdoor space can maintain the number of customers whilst increasing ventilation – a win-win scenario! The next important step is to have the best outdoor equipment to facilitate customers and encourage al-fresco dining, nobody likes eating in the rain or sitting on soggy cushions! Preparing for spring and summer is more important this year, than any year before!

Experts predict that the use of outdoor spaces will continue to rise, and there have even been suggestions that business travellers may host events and seminars outside, resulting in a sharp increase in demand. Outdoor space is a huge asset to businesses and one that has been arguably under-appreciated.

In the UK some local authorities have previously temporarily eased planning rules to allow limited seating on pavements. Other countries have been a bit more creative in their solutions to utilise outdoor seating. In Vancouver, authorities have gone beyond approving restaurants setting up patio areas on pavements and gone as far as full streets and car parks. In Madrid, as their rules began to ease, they restricted the food and beverage sector to only allow outdoor drinking and dining. This was also the case in Amsterdam where many restaurants set up “greenhouses” to allow for an increased customer capacity. It is highly likely that the UK will take a similar approach, and outdoor facilities will not only be in higher demand but also more likely to be approved by the local authorities.

We certainly live in interesting times and it will be fascinating to see how things evolve and how the new normal settles down. For our part we stand ready to scale up and meet the anticipated pick up in demand.


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