Eternal sunshine is always on our minds these days, whether it's concern about climate change or dreaming about dining alfresco – but it's where you sit that counts
If there's one benefit to global warming, it may be that this country has more than three days of sunshine in one summer. While it may not be worth losing the ice caps, polar bears and Mauritius for, it does mean people can sit outside for lunch and enjoy it, providing, that is, you have somewhere comfy for them to do so.
Factor in the smoking ban and you could say that outside is the new inside as more people are destined to be spending a lot more time alfresco. Long, glorious summer evenings where a welcoming environment and lingering warmth keep people rooted to their chairs will see your profits come rolling in until the wee small hours.
Furniture is the most important detail that can be placed outside your restaurant.
Purchasing commercial furniture is the first step to success; retail merchandise isn't going to have the same strength and durability and simply won't cut it. But don't panic, going trade doesn't mean you have to compromise on style.
Jake Bailey, a Director at Hill .
Cross Furniture, a Yorkshirebased company which has supplied many hundreds of restaurants, says more and more businesses are investing in decent outdoor furniture.
"It's often the first thing people see so it should reflect the quality of the restaurant inside. It's like a shop window and should be aimed at your target market," he explains.
Bailey has this advice for restaurateurs building an alfresco section, "People are being bolder and spending more money, and new products are pouring onto the market.
"The best woods are iroko or teak (check where the teak comes from – it should be plantation, not rainforest), which need oiling every few months. Oiling gets into the wood, rather than something like a lacquer, which will sit on top and if scratched or damaged will let water into your furniture.
"It's better to store furniture when it's not being used, for protection from the weather and security, so consider what can stack, how heavy it is and who is expected to move it."
Table-and-chair sets come in every conceivable style, with one to suit any mood. Think about how they will look together, how they will sit with your building's exterior, plus every factor that affects whether they will entice people to sit down and try your food. This combination of Ozone table and Carver chairs from Indian Ocean is a sleek and slightly unusual, yet understated, look. Ozone table in teak/stainless steel, from £2,260 Carver chair with weatherproof fabric, £350 020 8675 4808 indian-ocean.co.uk
DEEP AND MEANINGFUL
There is a wealth of companies out there that can design furniture for specific clients and their particular styles. Bespoke furniture can seem a more extravagant option, but depending on the look, it doesn't have to be that much more expensive and can add something really special, communicating the effort you've made to your customers. Stylematters has just built a new showroom where customers can see what they've already done and then come up with something completely new. The other benefit, of course, is that bespoke will suit exactly what you need, be it big feet for soft ground, high backs to act like a barrier to the street or the elements, or simply bold and spectacular. Chaise Longue, £1,700 0870 034 5550 stylematters.uk.com
Clipping thin menus to the table or slotting them in a personalised presentation wallet will appeal to even the trimmest budget and protect your bill of wares from the rigours of the great outdoors. The most important thing is to present something a little more professional looking than the old classic ashtrayas- paperweight. You could go for something more individual, have a hunt around antique stores and auction houses and see if you can find something to add a little character. These silver menu-holders are eyecatching examples from Styles Silver of Hungerford. Silver duck menu holder, £265 01488 683922 styles-silver.co.uk
Satelliet, Europe's largest contract furniture supplier, describes a distinct change in the way people are spending on their alfresco spaces – where once they would have spent £30 on a chair, they are now spending £60, and with the UK becoming more like mainland Europe where it is fashionable to have a great outdoor space, the new smoking ban is only going to add to this. Peter Carter from Satelliet says this year's big trend (and yes, outdoor furniture does have trends) is thick wicker/rattan weave. Sofas are also gaining in popularity, with more comfortable options to plump for than the old favourite aluminium frame. Carter advises restaurants think ‘arms and removable cushions' – if you have decent umbrellas and heaters, the outdoor area is going to get a lot of use. Commercial furniture is designed with traits such as weight, portability and cleaning in mind, so as long as you're buying from a good source you shouldn't run into a problem. All contract furniture is guaranteed for a year and should really last, even with heavy usage, between three and five years, or even as much as a decade. This wicker range is bang on trend and presents a comfortable and classy holder for your patrons' derrières. Fortelesa armchair with cushion, £139 + VAT 01420 548170 satelliet.co.uk