Indoors don’t seem to be the safest area right now, at least in terms of dining. We’re still wading through a pandemic so the protocols for business operations remain intact. So how can restaurateurs adapt to this essential dining trend?

Here, Andrew Trinidad of architecture studio Headroom talks about the principles of outdoor dining and its growing importance in the restaurant industry.

What’s the most viable size for outdoor dining given the social distancing guidelines?

No specific outdoor dining size, but we always help (restaurateurs) negotiate with leasing officers in terms of offered outdoor seating capacity. Ideally, at least 50 percent of the indoor dining space. Greenbelt 2 is a perfect al fresco spot.

Right now, we work heavily with The Bistro Group, with Las Flores, as well as a new Josh Boutwood concept store in Greenbelt 3 slated to open in the second quarter of the year, which both give emphasis on outdoor seating.

The goal is to make a laid-back al fresco seating by specifying a combination of regular four-seater tables and two-seater sofas, complemented by lounge chairs and puff stools as our intention is to make a loose and chill dining impression.

People want to see a spacious layout; it gives them a sense of safety during these uncertain times.

BCN by Las Flores in Bonifacio Global City

Is it still easy to create the atmosphere diners want while ensuring that safety remains a priority?

For the brand of restaurants we do, normally we avoid linear arrangement of seats and so we strongly mix and match booths, banquet and regular two- to four-seater tables as well as combine circular and rectangular tables to avoid the restaurant looking empty during non-peak hours. The business killer is creating an empty-looking store because of poor planning and the social distancing requirement.

We prepare two sets of plans, with the other one laid out as per social distancing requirement. Still, we follow the mix-match formula.

Based on your experience, is the level of attention on al fresco dining the same now (or much higher) compared to the indoor setup?

Definitely yes. First seats taken are always al fresco, pero location and market-oriented din eh, like in BGC where people really prefer outdoor seats kahit mainit.

What’s the process like for choosing outdoor decor? Are there key principles to follow when selecting types of furniture or material?

Ideally the selection should be stackable and good against sun discoloration. It should have smooth surfaces for less dirt accumulation and easy maintenance.

Dapat flexible ang muebles mo, pwede mo ilipat from one tindahan to another. The seating demand from one store to another is so erratic that you should be able to reorganize the demand of every store without buying new seats.

Watami Sushi Bar at SM City North EDSA The Block

Is there a formula to the seating layout?

We often follow (the formula) that the total minimum number of seats should be half of the total leasable tenant space, but inclusive of the number of seats gained from al fresco (seating). Every seat is equivalent to potential sales.

Aside from the basics of outdoor dining design, how else do you think restaurants can go above and beyond (current safety protocols) to attract customers and convert them into a loyal market?

Go beyond the comfort zone even if it means breaking brand standards. Seek excellence even in times of pandemic. A restaurant should show stability and confidence in the market. We have seen so many brands that went beyond their usual norms.

Ramen shops doing ramen kits, casual and fine dining stores whose niche is seated dining now selling microwave-ready food, fast food selling ready to cook frozen goods. Maraming bagong business practices that turned out to be doing well!

Usapan namin ng mga nag-re-restaurant, ‘wag matakot, a slight up in sales is good sales, at least hindi negative.

Note: Takeout or to-go food is the new norm.

Check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website for other guidelines.

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