Wide open spaces, comfortable amenities, and creative use of outdoor real estate may be the right prescription for getting through the age of Covid-19.
May 6th, 2020
T&T Editorial & Content Team
Growing accounts in the medical and research communities suggest congregating in outdoor spaces has shown to be one of the safest activities, in combination with social distancing practices, when considering reintegration with society during the tail-end of a pandemic. A few states and large cities have started enacting the first stages of such reintegration, allowing restaurants to reopen and serve patrons once again, starting with outdoor patio spaces. A growing number of people have decided to take their chances and get out of the dang house for the first time in weeks; the desire to return to a semblance of Life Before Covid is strong and growing stronger.
Part of that normalcy is rooted in conserving mobility and entertainment outlets. As we see in the multifamily industry, humans have a natural desire to explore and move about their environment— content with their immediate surroundings (their home or apartment) for short stints, yet stimulated by a variety of amenities right in their own neighborhood. Heck, we need those things for our own sanity. As we start to relax our own internal struggles with the coronavirus' impact on our personal lives, hospitality brands can ease the financial burden experienced during the peak of this pandemic by utilizing their outdoor amenities, be it a dedicated patio space, lawn, or even repurposed parking spaces at their establishment. Digging through our own archive of past projects that feature effective al fresco amenities, we identified 5 effective elements— nay, secret weapons —that virtually any space can use to lure customers back.
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Secret Weapon 1:
A Space to "Do Life" Outside
Part of the allure surrounding successful establishments is the idea of "domicile projection." People get emotionally attached to their local haunts because it feels like an extension of their own home. A restaurant becomes your own dining room, a patio space your back yard, a bandstand your outdoor living room. This is a place to kick back, relax, and be around friends or family, which is precisely the kind of space that would be briskly welcomed by eager spenders and anxious mask-wearers alike.
Our recommendation: in programming your outdoor space, include amenities that remind you of multiple areas of an entertainment-focused house ... one that would be great for parties. Fire pits, makeshift bocce ball courts or cornhole boards, nighttime projections of classic movies or NFL games, conversation pits and low sectionals, hightop tables by an outdoor bar ... give people a reason to visit, mingle, and loiter aside from just being a place to grab lunch or dinner.
Example above: The Club at Ruby Hill in Pleasanton, CA, features a sprawling patio space with multiple seating areas, a conversation pit with wine tasting table next to the cellar entrance, fire features, two-lane bocce ball court, and amphitheater with privacy shades for special events.
Secret Weapon 2:
Make It Fun
We've observed a curious shift in customer behavior over the past decade, but to be honest it's not that big of a secret: people want to feel free to have fun, let their hair down, and not take themselves so seriously all the time. You see the same trend in the workplace (Casual Everydays) and in the home (goodbye formal dining rooms)— not every environment needs to be so stuffy and black-tie. We have weddings and funerals for that.
Our recommendation: if its a fit for your demographic, ditch the Maître D and white table cloths and go for a much more casual experience. Hire a trio of rad food trucks to provide a rotating menu of goodies, and get a margarita cart while you're at it. Make everything self-serve or walk-up window service, or as close to it as possible during COVID season. Bright colors, an eclectic mix of vintage signage, and durable materials make everything approachable for families looking to escape quarantine. Outdoor games, TVs with sports reruns, and low-key live music cap off the whole experience.
Example above: Braemar Golf Club branded their tennis club's outdoor area DEUCE to feature a decidedly casual, truckyard vibe. Family-friendly and comfortable year round.
Secret Weapon 3:
Leverage Your View
Don't make us slap you! A seat with a view, especially if it's Instagram-worthy, is one of the most powerful environmental amenities you can use when propping up your outdoor space usage. We can't tell you how many times we've come across a property that has its outdoor seating facing the wrong way or a view obstructed by potted plants. Give the people something to look at!
Our recommendation: if you have a viable seating area that faces a visual point of interest— be it the green of the 18th hole, a halfway decent view of a downtown skyline, trees/mountains/water/nature, etc., use that gift to your advantage.
Example above: Ancala Country Club in Scottsdale, AZ, has a skinny outdoor area with minimal space that needed to be carefully programmed in order to maximize its effectiveness. Even so, it's consistently the busiest part of the clubhouse's footprint on warm summer nights. Why? Its view is spectacular.
Secret Weapon 4:
Blending Indoor and Outdoor
Climates that allow for doors to be propped open during business hours can benefit from installing large, kinetic apertures that create dramatic moments when blending outdoor and indoor spaces. Glass roll-up doors, hydraulic panels, and mechanic nesting dividers give flexibility when needed, yet create immersive environments that patrons love to move around and explore.
Our recommendation: properties that don't have a lot of flexibility with their floorplan or structural conditions should consider swapping out windows or doorways with dramatic steel-and-glass systems that create large physical and visual apertures. This also helps with traffic flow to outdoor amenities, creating a natural extension of interior areas.
Example above: Arlo Apartments in Portland, OR, utilizes large-aperture steel/glass systems to draw exterior amenities— outdoor fire pit, conversation sectionals, and bar seating —into the interior's visual flow.
Secret Weapon 5:
Embracing Personal Space
Not everyone wants to be around strangers (especially now!) — sometimes we just want to join friends or family for dinner in an environment that reveres that oh-so-sacred personal space for a much more intimate experience.
Our recommendation: So, your local government wants 6 feet between tables, eh? Try 20 feet instead, and place some dramatic water features, plants, and fire ribbons in between them for extra privacy. This Secret Garden aesthetic draws the attention of people who love to entertain, but like to do so with certainty that they won't be distracted by others.
Example above: Vaquero Club in Westlake, TX, has a sprawling patio that appears difficult to sufficiently fill with outdoor seating without looking like overkill. Don't let that necessarily stump you. Instead, embrace the space between seating areas by purchasing low, oversized furniture that can fit parties of 4 or larger. Leave the two-top tables for the inside by the bar.
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