As customers enjoy the last of the summer sunshine on outdoor decks and balconies many accommodation providers are starting to think how they can extend the use of these areas to ensure they become viable business resources over the winter months.
With the wet, windy and cold winter weather on its way, whole outdoor areas can be redundant for many weeks of the year simply because of a lack of outdoor heating. During the colder months these areas are often used only by smokers popping out for a quick cigarette before heading back to the warm dining or bar area.
However, ask many diners and bar patrons and you’ll find they often prefer to sit outside, eating, drinking and relaxing, even during the colder winter months. For this reason outdoor heating solutions are growing in popularity amongst accommodation providers with suitable al fresco dining spaces.
The range and choice in outdoor heating solutions has grown significantly over the past decade from simple braziers and free standing patio heaters, to encompass both fixed and portable gas or electric heaters utilising radiant heat, as well as outdoor fireplaces and fire tables.
One of the first places many businesses looking to extend the use of al fresco dining areas start is with cafe screens to surround the allocated space, says Bev Jones-Prichard, director of Heatmax NZ. These screens break the chill from the wind and allow any additional heating sources to work properly.
“No amount of heating will be effective if there is a cold wind blowing. It is important to break the flow of the wind,” she says. The style and type of outdoor heating solution that will suit the outdoor dining space is the next major consideration. Jones-Prichard says there is a strong move away from mushroom patio heaters which use large amounts of gas and are heavily polluting. “They have traditionally been difficult to light and the circular tops can blow away and dent.”
There are, however, new ranges of patio heaters that eliminate these problems. The new styles are heavier, easier to light and are more efficient at burning gas. Heatstrip electric heaters, which are minimal and stylish in appearance are proving popular, she says. “They give a gentle pleasant heat, much like sitting in the spring sunshine but with no UV rays. They are also very inexpensive to operate which makes them very appealing for commercial establishments that have their heaters on for many hours.”
Ben Hawkins, new product development manager at Rinnai, says outdoor fireplaces both wood burning and gas, are also growing in popularity. Outdoor fireplaces are similar in construction to indoor fire places, with a fire box and chimney, and provide warmth and ambience to an outdoor seating area. In a similar vein to the outdoor fireplace, fire tables are becoming popular in many bars and restaurants. The tables contain a gas run firebox at leg height and allow customers to sit or stand around the heat source, while still having a flat, comfortable space for food and drinks.
In most instances outdoor heaters use radiant heat technology, a system which heats objects and not empty spaces. Jones –Prichard says radiant heaters do not heat the air between the heater and the object – the object warms up and in turn radiates heat itself. “The sun is an example of radiant heat, but radiant heaters do not have dangerous UV rays.” Rinnai’s Hawkins adds that radiant heating is ideal in an outdoor situation as it is not affected by the wind.
There are, however, some safety considerations with all forms of outdoor heating that need to betaken into account. Heaters marketed in New Zealand must be passed for public use and are required to meet stringent government safety standards. “Correctly operated, gas heating is as safe as electrical heating,” says Jones-Prichard. “However, accommodation providers should satisfy themselves that the product is registered on the government data base of accepted heating.”
In addition, gas appliances should be checked annually by a certified gas fitter to ensure they are safe. And, says Hawkins, wall mounted heaters provide a fixed air gap between the appliance and the person operating it. “Of course correct installation and clearances to combustibles must also be adhered to.”
So with the cold winter months on their way, outdoor heating systems are one way to ensure al fresco dining spaces are no longer simply redundant, unused spaces in inclement weather they can now remain both comfortable and warm spaces for patrons.
And, as Jones-Prichard explains, if the outdoor area is attached to a dining area it will greatly increase the usable dining space. “If the area can be seen by the passing public it will attract other diners. Everyone wants to go where everyone else goes,” she says.