Patio Furniture - A Foodservice Buying Guide

Ahh, patio season!  There’s nothing like enjoying food and beverages outdoors. Opening sooner and staying open longer every year, patios offer the fun and frivolity that only outdoor dining can provide.  With the right patio furniturethrough form and function, invite your guests to pull up a chair and stay awhile.   
 
What you need depends on who you are and what you offer your customers.  A café serving hot beverages and pastries and an establishment serving three courses plus multiple beverages have different requirements when buying patio furniture. 
 
Footprint and Flow 
 
For a successful and functional patio, preplanning is absolute!  Figure out everything you need within the space before looking for patio furniture.  What is the best flow for serving staff?  Pathways for customers to get to the restrooms.  Do you need a station for servers? Do you need a bar station? Are you using dividers, adding plants and/or other décor, how about heating? 
 
Remember to consider what’s coming from the kitchen and the bar.  The size of your dishes, plates and bowls.  Do you sell sharing platters? What size are those?  Glasses don’t typically take up much table real estate, but if you have a water glass in addition to a purchased drink or if you bring the bottle of beer plus a frosted glass to the table and suddenly it’s getting crowded, and food hasn’t even arrived. Squeezing four people around a small table may sound like a good idea to pack them in, but if the food arrives and all the dishes don’t fit on the table with drinks, your customers aren’t going to be happy. 
 
Have the footprint of all your bits and pieces in addition to the larger map ready before you start looking. Remember to include all obstacles like trees, streetlights and permanent posts.  
 
 
Form and Function 
 
This is where it gets fun. Your outdoor and indoor dining areas should feel like they belong together.  It doesn’t need to be matchy-matchy but should represent your brand. 
 
Do you want your patio light and airy? Bold and chunky? That’s all about form.  The lines or outside shapes of the chairs, the shape and thickness of the tabletops, the style of table base, the thickness of the table legs. 
 
The function of patio furniture - chairs, stools, tables, tabletops and table bases - is important for foodservice operators.  You need to know that the chair seat and back will safely hold your customers, that chair arms will offer support for standing up (and comfort when sitting), that the tables can withstand the weight of dishes full of food, glassware full of beverages and however many adults possibly leaning on the table. 
 
Stackability of chairs, stools (and even tables) can save valuable space and allow operators to have backup seating available when reconfiguring tables for groups and parties.  The pieces should have levelers for safe and secure placement. Same for tables and table bases, no wobbles, please! 
 
Construction and Materials 
 
Patio furniture built commercial use is the only choice for foodservice establishments whether you need two 4-tops or twenty.  Customer safety is paramount.  But also, for durability. One, because we know that Canadian weather can be...shall we say extreme?  Two, because it must stand up to repeated use by customers and by staff. It may need to be moved for cleaning or reorganized for larger groups and parties.  And did we mention the weather – rain, snow, wind, sleet, blazing sun - you live here, you understand. Don't forget, insurance companies prefer you use commercial products in a commercial establishment. 

Ensure it is built for outdoor use. Outdoor furniture can certainly be used inside, but not all inside furniture can be used outside. 
 
When you are looking for commercial patio furniture, there is no 100% weatherproof patio furniture, but the right materials can make a big difference. Factors to consider include the climate at your location (humidity, heat, sunlight, wind), cleaning, maintenance, durability and cost. In many products, a combination of materials is used to maximize the pros and minimize the cons.  

Here are the pros and cons of the most popular materials used for tabletopsframes, chair and stool seats and backs. 

Patio Furniture MaterialPROSCONS
Wooddurability, strength, eco-friendlyprice, maintenance
Metal - Stainless Steeldurability, strength, resists rust, easy to cleanprice, heat retention
Metal - Aluminumlightweight, strength, low maintenance, inexpensivelightweight, heat retention
Plastic and Resinstrength, durability, easy to clean, inexpensivelightweight
High Pressure Laminate (HPL)modern look, resists damageprice
Tempered Glasselegant look, resists temperatureweight, glare (unless frosted)

 
Colour 
 
It does matter.  To fit with your brand.  But colour can also be a drawing card, bring the eye and therefore the customer in. Or use it as a contrast from your indoor dining space. 
 
Colour psychology (the study of how colours affect human behaviorstells us that colour changes our perception of space, can change the appearance of certain foods and even make us more comfortable and want to stay longer.  Colour is emotional and physical, so it makes sense that the colour of your patio furniture has the same “feel” as the rest of your operation. 
 
 
Tables  
 
Patio tables and chairs and stools are available in various heights - dining, counter and bar. There are standard measurements for heights but you will find slight variations. Location, age of your customers and style are the key factors in figuring out which one suits you best.   
 
Even though you might like the look and feel of bar height tables and chairs/stools, it may depend on where you put them. If they block the view of your dining room guests, someone won’t be happy. What is your view? A bit more height might give your guests on the patio a better view?   
 
Average age of your customers also needs to be considered. Older guests might not want to hike themselves up on a bar stool or try to climb down.  Younger people (or the parents of younger people) might prefer something closer to the ground. Does your client demographic have children in high chairs, do your highchairs work with your table heights? 

 

Shape and size of the tabletop is about maximizing your available space, but also can help or deter flow invite conversation and allow for reconfiguration. Round, square and rectangular are the norm.  Size should be decided by your average party size and what space your tabletop needs to hold all the pieces of a typical meal. Using large rectangular tables doesn’t make sense if you typically have parties of two. 
 
Tables can be sold as a single unit or where you purchase the table top and table base separately. A benefit to a single unit is it has been matched for you, but you might be unable to replace either the table top or the leg(s) in case of damage.  When you purchase table tops and table bases separately you end up with a “custom” table.  Beware that not all bases and tops can be used together.  The base needs to support and stabilize the top.  Check with the manufacture to ensure you are using the right one.   
 
Table legs and table bases have various configurations.  Four legs (on each corner) offer great stability but can limit reconfiguration.  Single pedestal bases with either a round base or X base, or double pedestal bases with an elongated X base for larger rectangular tables.  There are bases that have a tilting mechanism that allows the tables to be horizontally stacked for space saving storage. 
 
Chairs and Stools 
 
Once you’ve decided on table height, next is seating.  Whichever height you choose, the seat of the chair or stool should be 10-12" lower than the table.  Again, you should consider a few factors in determining which have the best features for your operation. 
 

 
 
Arm chairs are typically more comfortable and offer support for getting in and out of the chair (remember your older guests) but are heavier and take up more space. However, many styles can be stacked  Side chairs (no arms) are space saving, can easily be tucked under tables or stacked but are less comfortable and lead guests to lean on the table top instead.  Arm chairs around a 4-top might not work well if reconfiguring to accommodate 6 around 2 x 4-tops. 
 
Bar stools can come with or without backs and do not typically have arm rests. Most have a foot/heel rest so legs are not dangling uncomfortably. 
 
Sleek and chic or fun and bright, choosing the right patio furniture is vital to a successful (and hopefully really long) patio season. 

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