Outside in: How creative use of outside space is proving big business for hospitality

By Emma Eversham contact

- Last updated on GMT

Grand Union Wandsworth's new Pleasure Island garden concept
Grand Union Wandsworth's new Pleasure Island garden concept

Related tags: Grand union, Marriott international, Brixton

Despite the unpredictable British weather, pubs, restaurants and hotels are investing more in their outside spaces and using them more creatively than ever before. 

From the pub gardens re-designed as beach bars, to the hotel rooftops hosting year-round pop-up restaurants, the look and purpose of each space is different, yet the motivation is the same – to give the business a point-of-difference and, crucially, increase a venue’s capacity.

Adam Marshall, the founder of London-based bar operator Grand Union, has been maximising the potential of outside space at his venues for the last six years.

Six of the company’s eight sites have themed outdoor spaces – from a Thai-style garden with tree houses at Grand Union Brixton to a fairy-light adorned rooftop at Grand Union Kennington – and Marshall sees them as integral to the business. 

“In Brixton our Thai Commune garden concept is so successful. We started that six years ago and it proved so popular that we developed it last year, building another 10 tree houses,” he said.

The latest Grand Union bar to have an outdoor makeover is Wandsworth where its outdoor space, or ‘Pleasure Island’ as it is known, has been kitted out with Miami-style beach huts and an outside beach bar-style cocktail bar.

Marshall says the investment made in the garden will be returned in the next six months with Brixton's garden able to make up to £60k a week during the height of the summer. They are also proving incredibly popular with the Brixton tree houses booked out for six months in advance on Friday and Saturday evenings. 

Special space

Another pub company which has recently invested in its outside space is Three Cheers Pub Co. 

The company re-opened the garden of its Balham pub The Avalon earlier this month following eight weeks of work to turn it into a multi-purpose space which could host an extra 180 people seated and 70 standing. 

The space, designed by The Beer Co.s Ross Clarke, now features a 10 metre wide living wall, a feasting table surrounded by a steel pergola to seat 24, booth seating and a lounge area complete with bean bags and sheep skins. 

There is also now an outside bar and kitchen, with a Josper grill and roasting spit, enabling the area to be used for special events or booked for private parties.

Three Cheers Pub Co co-founder Tom Peake said: “The Avalon’s garden created waves when it first opened, and has always been a very popular space. After seven years it was in need of a revamp.

"We really wanted to take it up a level and create a truly beautiful garden with a proper bar and kitchen and lots of different areas for drinkers, diners and parties. There simply aren’t that many pub or restaurant gardens like this in London.”  

Creating extra space was also a motivator for Grand Union, but, like Peake says, paying more attention to an outdoor space and how it is used can really create a special space for customers. 

"At Wandsworth the beach huts are all elevated so when you're in there you overlook the rest of the garden. The huts can be decorated for a birthday and you can order jugs of cocktails. It's all about trying to make our customers feel a bit special," said Marshall.

All year round

However, for Grand Union, it is the fact that the gardens can be used all year round which Marshall believes sets the business apart from other operators.  

Last year at the end of October, the company covered its Brixton garden in a giant marquee fitted with turbine heaters. The interior was decorated to look like a garden which meant the space was still able to be used. 

"The summers in London are fantastic, but the winters are miserable," said Marshall. "But if you're creative with what you're given it can pay off.

"You think, 'who wants to be in a garden in January?', but last Christmas people were out in Brixton without their coats on and we were pretty much full up all winter.

"We'll do the same this year and at Wandsworth, where there's a large oak tree in the middle of the garden, we're thinking of doing the same, but with a teepee." 

Unused space

At the Marriott Park Lane hotel, a new 100-cover pop-up restaurant area - Roofnic​ - will be running up on its rooftop terrace throughout the summer, but, like Grand Union, its operator won't be closing the space when the temperature drops. 

"The design of Roofnic kept the British weather in mind and was designed to be transformed into a winter pop up once the summer disappears," said Stephen Nash, director of operations at the Marriott Park Lane."The Roofnic is mostly covered with a stylish gazebo, and has heaters and blankets to keep our cool, chic clientele warm whilst socialising. Once the summer sun goes down, adjustments will be considered to keep Mayfair’s coolest spot open for the winter."

What makes Roofnic a particularly interesting example of a hospitality business using its outdoor space creatively to boost business is the fact that previously the rooftop terrace had never been considered for use. 

It was only when owner Marriott International launched an internal competition for each of its hotels to develop a pop-up food and/or beverage space for generation Y that it went about transforming the space.

"We put a team together at the Marriott Park Lane and put together a concept and business plan to activate a rooftop terrace which has never been used previously and won $40,000 to launch the concept," said Nash.

"With the Marriott Park Lane having undergone a £20m ultra-luxurious refurbishment, it was important the cool and retro style of the Roofnic was operated and marketed separately to the hotel. ​Roofnic will be the first to launch for Marriott and provides the only terrace of its kind in Mayfair."

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