The coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on the restaurant industry, but outdoor seating may help many establishments keep their doors open. The right restaurant patio ideas and seating arrangements can help attract customers and ease their fears of restaurant dining.

From private pods to sidewalk seating and tents, restaurants have many options for outdoor seating.

restaurant patio ideas

Private Dining Pods

Many restaurants are going the extra mile to keep outdoor diners safe by installing private dining pods on their patios.

What are restaurant pods? The name may sound like something out of a sci-fi movie, but the concept is simple: Guests dine in their own space or pod. Tables are slightly elevated on platforms and kept a fair distance from other diners. Some pods are enclosed, while others are open. Many have doors or openings that can be opened or closed as necessary.

Pods ensure that diners only share their space and air with each other. Ventilation allows fresh air to cycle through. Heaters can also be installed to keep diners warm in cooler weather.

Although they will require an investment, private pods may be a long-term solution that helps diners feel safe.

Check local regulations to make sure that you can install dining pods and what rules you may have to follow to use them.

Bubble Dining Pods

Bubble dining is similar to restaurant pods. But just as the name suggests, these are bubble-shaped enclosures that give diners a private space to enjoy a meal.

These pods may provide a little more space than square or rectangular pods, which may allow you to add some ambient lighting, heating, greenery, and other features that create a warm, welcoming environment.

Like private restaurant outdoor pods, bubble pods will be a costly option. But diners’ fears may be put to rest if you can budget for this renovation.

outdoor dining ideas for restaurants

Sidewalk Seating

If you're looking for practical, affordable outdoor restaurant patio ideas, sidewalk seating is a good solution if you’re located on a busy street or outdoor mall. Sidewalk seating gives diners easy access to your establishment and will attract passersby who may want a place to sit down and enjoy a drink or meal.

Even if you only have a small amount of sidewalk space, you can still place a few umbrella-topped tables outdoors for customers. This type of outdoor seating only requires minimal investment. Make sure that your seating and décor matches your indoor space to stay on brand.

Research and adhere to local laws if you want to establish sidewalk seating.

In New York, for example, tables and seating must be as close to the wall as possible, and there must be an 8-foot path for pedestrians.

Take the Cooking and Bar Outdoors

Want to attract hungry pedestrians? Bring your cooking equipment and bar outdoors. The aroma of barbeque or pizza will attract diners right to your doorstep. An outdoor bar ensures quick service.

Customers also have the chance to watch your cooks and bartenders at work.

Taking your equipment outdoors may take up a significant amount of space, so make sure that you have the room for this type of patio dining arrangement.

Like with our other patio ideas for restaurants, it’s important to research local laws and regulations before setting things up. There may be restrictions on the equipment you can take outdoors or with serving drinks outdoors.

outdoor dining pods for restaurants

Heaters and Tents to Prepare for Changing Weather

When cooler weather arrives, diners will be more reluctant to sit outdoors in the open air. Prepare for the changing weather by installing outdoor heaters. Depending on your patio’s layout, you may be able to make use of fire pits or outdoor fireplaces to keep customers warm. Electric heaters are another option and likely the most favorable one as far as liability is concerned.

Depending on your local laws, you may also be able to install tents to keep customers warm in cooler or inclement weather. There may be restrictions on the sizes and locations of tents, so be sure that you understand what you can and cannot do with this type of arrangement.

Choose Layouts and Furniture That Create Privacy

When choosing tables, seating, other furniture, and décor for your patio, make sure that your choices align with your brand. The layout you create should create privacy for diners, allowing for an intimate setting and a welcoming ambiance.

  • Try to keep the patio dining area away from noisy areas.
  • Make use of fences, dividers, and planters to keep dining tables separate from one another.
  • Use colorful décor to attract customers.
  • Add string lighting and illuminated signage to bring more customers to your doorstep.
  • For after-dark dining, make sure that the ground is level and well-lit.

Even in cooler weather, diners will choose outdoor seating if they are given privacy and a welcoming environment.

restaurant outdoor pods

Create a Winter Wonderland

To cope with cooler weather, restaurants are going to have to get creative with their seating arrangements.

Some restaurants are embracing the idea of winter by creating outdoor winter wonderlands for diners to enjoy. Igloos – complete with heaters – will give diners a private, separate space to eat while adding to the winter theme.

Add cozy lighting – inside and outside the igloos – comfortable seating (maybe a blanket or two) and other elements to attract customers to your unique patio.

If your restaurant is located in an area that gets snow, having dining igloos allows diners to eat comfortably while snow falls around them.

Get Creative

Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box and try something new. The beauty of patio dining is that you have open space to work with. You don’t have to worry about knocking down walls or making expensive renovations. Strategic placement of tables, chairs, greenery, and décor can instantly transform your outdoor dining area.

Outdoor dining will continue to be a lifeline for restaurants that are still reeling from the pandemic. The right combination of seating placement and comfort will help attract diners all year long – even after patio dining season has officially ended.