How to Design an Outdoor Cafe


| Sep 25, 2023

In the warmer months of the year, outdoor cafes are an innovative option for restaurants. Many customers love to enjoy the fresh air as they eat, and the outdoors can be a great place to host a group of friends or family. For restaurants themselves, providing outdoor seating can bring in new patrons and generate more sales.

Whether you expand your seating options to include outside choices or open a new outdoor cafe, you have many design choices for your new space. Every decision, from the lighting layout to the size of your tables, affects the mood of the cafe and how customers will feel about their experience at your establishment.

If you’re wondering how to get started, here’s a basic guide for designing an outdoor cafe.

Designing an Outdoor Cafe

By carefully planning for your cafe, you can anticipate potential questions later in the process. The construction steps vary, depending on the size and scope of your intended restaurant, but here are five steps to follow as you start your outdoor cafe construction:

1. Find Your Audience

The most important thing to keep in mind as you begin planning is your audience. Early in your planning, consider your ideal customer or group of customers. Ask yourself how you can optimize your design for them. Then, let your intended audience influence the rest of your decisions, from table sizes to the lighting design.

A good practice is placing yourself in a potential customer’s shoes. If you anticipate serving families, picture what the parents of a large family look for in a restaurant. They might wish for large tables, comfortable seats and a kids’ menu with many options. If your ideal consumer is a young professional, they might want a sleek lighting design and a refined atmosphere. By keeping the audience in mind from the beginning, you can design the most enhanced experience for them.

Here are some questions to ask yourself about the audience as you plan:

  • Who is my ideal customer/group of customers?
  • Why is this my best audience? How can I best serve them?
  • What is their age, socioeconomic status, average occupation and other defining features?
  • How do these demographic variables affect their food preferences?
  • What would they look for in an ideal restaurant?
  • How can I achieve those ideals in my cafe?

2. Create Your Basic Mood

Creating your cafes mood/ambiance

After you discover your audience, you can start thinking about the mood. The mood is your outdoor cafe’s overall atmosphere or ambiance. Anything from lights and furniture to temperature and cleanliness impacts the mood of your space.

If you’re expanding your indoor restaurant to include outside options, you might want to keep the vibe consistent. If you plan to open a brand-new outdoor cafe, you’re probably starting with a fresh slate. Either way, the mood of your cafe sets the tone of your customers’ dining experience.

Feel free to use existing restaurants as inspiration for ideas. Try looking at social media websites like Pinterest to see schemas and use the inspiration to form your theme. Then, write all of your ideas down and sketch an outline or two to see how it looks on paper.

Some aspects of mood to consider:

  • Lighting: Lighting designs impact the mood of most places. Many bright lights might feel more vibrant, while dim lights give a more intimate feeling.
  • Music: Music choice sets the tone for restaurants. Consider how a classical theme sets the mood differently than a rock song.
  • Cleanliness: Remember the layout of your restaurant also contributes to the mood. Keep everything neat and easily accessible. Make sure you have enough trash receptacles to give customers a way to get rid of their trash.

3. Consider Your Color

Once you have a mood in mind, you can start thinking about the colors you use in your outdoor space. Color is often the most crucial design factor for a room, swaying emotions and influencing choices.

To get started, think about your audience again. How do you want to make them feel while in your cafe? The color scheme of your space can create this effect. Remember to pair the colors with your intended mood, as well.

Here are some examples of restaurant color themes and how they might make your guests feel:

  • Bright colors: Bright colors like yellow and orange elevate customers’ moods. If you want a happy mood, using bright tones gives your guests a sense of joy. They might feel energetic and inclined to eat or drink more than usual.
  • Striking shades: Compelling colors like purple or red attract visitors to your cafe. These colors are eye-catching and a great way to pull in more traffic. They’ll also leave a distinctive impression upon guests even after they leave.
  • Earth tones: Earth tones are perfect if you want a relaxed or slow-paced cafe vibe. Green and blue elicit calm feelings in customers. An earthy color scheme makes customers relax and maybe spend a few leisurely hours in your cafe.

4. Think About Weather

Think about weather in an outdoor cafe design

Unlike indoor restaurants, outdoor cafes face the unpredictability of the weather. Rain, wind or freezing temperatures might ruin a perfect day for your cafe. Even intense sun rays could degrade a customer’s experience.

Because of the constant threat of weather conditions, you should plan for protection. You might consider umbrellas, overhead coverings or outdoor space heaters for added warmth. Look for high-quality materials that won’t degrade after a few months of use. While the costs are higher, think of it as a long-term investment. Again, try to find colors that match the overall theme of your outside space.

Some weather protection options to think about include:

  • Umbrellas: Umbrellas can attach easily to tables, protecting customers from potential rain drizzles. They come in many colors, so it’s easy to incorporate them into your color scheme.
  • Awnings: Awnings are a perfect option for outdoor gathering spaces. You can keep customers in the shade and protect them from rain or snow.
  • Heaters or fireplace: Increase customer visits in cooler temperatures by using heating instruments. Try portable heaters for a flexible installation that warms your guests or a crackling fireplace that brings a strong sense of coziness to enhance the outside experience.

5. Plan Your Details

Finally, it’s time to plan for all the remaining details of your cafe. Whether chair height or dessert options, think about all the tiny choices that impact your overall design. Remember to stay consistent with your mood and color scheme as you focus on those small details. Additionally, you always have the freedom to update your outdoor space’s design, so you can add anything you may have missed later on.

Tips for Designing an Outdoor Cafe

Creating an outdoor eating space is an effective way to attract new customers. However, with all of the design considerations to keep in mind, planning for your outdoor cafe often seems like a confusing process. Remember to stay creative, channeling your passion for food throughout the space’s development.

Here are some more tips for your cafe outdoor space design:

  1. Choose high-quality materials: When selecting furniture, weather protection and decorations, opt for the most durable choices. All of the materials will face environmental conditions. Whether it’s severe winds or heavy rains, you want your selections to withstand the weather. Look for waterproof and heavy-duty options for the best investments.
  2. Try creative ways to elevate the experience: Always look for unique ways to upgrade your guests’ experience. Consider live music, themed nights or a signature weekly offering. Anything that sets you apart as a cafe is good for attracting new customers.
  3. Stay consistent: Everything from your menu to the color of your chairs adds up to the overall dining atmosphere. Be sure to select consistent choices that don’t detract from your overall theme or customers’ experiences. Remember your audience’s needs, and you’re sure to impress.

Design Considerations for Cafes

After you have your basic mood and theme, think about additional design considerations before you start building. Aspects like the size and layout of your patio should inform the rest of your design choices. While you shouldn’t pack too much in, you also shouldn’t leave your space bare.

These are some essential design considerations for an outdoor cafe:

  1. Calculate needed size early on: If you’re expanding your restaurant outwards, plan for the correct amount of patio space you need first. Be sure to leave extra room just in case. If your cafe is new, keep the intended size in mind as you browse locations.
  2. Leave enough space for easy access: The layout of the outside cafe should fit your furniture and account for server and guest accessibility. Make sure servers have enough space to move between tables comfortably and customers have ample ability to move their chairs back and accommodate mobility devices.
  3. Account for storage space: Restaurants usually need room for storing chairs and other extra serving supplies. Even if it’s a tiny space, make sure to leave room for extra stock. Try vertical storage space for a size-effective choice.
  4. Small cafes have more design options: If you have a privately-owned cafe, you probably have more design options than a large chain restaurant. While smaller cafes are more niche, there’s often more room to be creative.

Types of Furniture for Outdoor Cafes

As mentioned before, furniture is an integral feature of your cafe. If your furniture is comfortable, it enhances a customer’s experience. When you select pieces that accompany the cafe’s theme, you create a memorable and cohesive dining experience.

With so many to choose from, here are a few cafe furniture design ideas best suited for an outdoor restaurant:

Picnic Tables

Commercial picnic tables are an accessible and attractive option for your outdoor space. Most picnic tables are durable, withstanding harsh weather conditions. Overall, they contribute much to the outside experience.

Here are more advantages of picnic tables:

  • Variety of colors and sizes: Picnic tables offer many options if you have a specific color scheme and want to use it with your tables. They come in a variety of colors and sizes. Whether you need a large table for big families or only two seats for dates, you’re sure to find a picnic table with the dimensions you seek.
  • Easy to clean: Cafe maintenance is another factor to keep in mind. You can easily wipe off picnic tables in between meals, reducing cleaning times for workers.

Dining Sets

Outdoor dining sets are a great way to keep a consistent color scheme while also saving some money. The chairs are designed to accompany the matching table, so it provides an optimal height ratio. Additionally, you can choose from many styles and options to find the best match for your cafe.

These are more benefits of dining sets:

  • Cost-effective: Buying a table and chair as a set often saves you money in the long run. The price for both pieces is often lower than the typical rates for buying them separately. It’s also a timesaver — you might spend weeks or months searching for a matching chair when buying the set gives you an immediate match.
  • Variety of styles: Dining sets provide many options. Whether you want bar chairs or a table with wood finishings, you’re sure to find a style that matches your needs.

Outside Benches

Benches are an excellent choice for casual eating or to-go options. Customers can sit leisurely with friends and come and go as they please. If you want a more easygoing cafe vibe, benches might be a great idea.

Here are more perks of using outdoor benches:

  • They’re durable: Outside benches can endure harsh winds or heavy precipitation. Sturdy and reliable, you can count on the benches to withstand any conditions.
  • They’re attractive: A colorful bench might draw street traffic into your cafe, and the relaxed nature encourages guests to stay longer and enjoy. The more customers you attract, the more they might share on social media, improving business.

Browse Wabash Valley Site Furnishings Products

At Wabash Valley Site Furnishings, we understand the importance of a well-designed outdoor cafe. Our high-quality outdoor furnishings offer durability and style. No matter the style you seek, we provide customization options for all of your design needs.

Browse our many options today and see how they fit into your design plans. Customize choices to your tastes, then check out directly on our website. We’ll ship our products right to you, and you can add them to your restaurant as you see fit.

If you have any questions or need help with a design plan, feel free to contact our team. Order today!