Kerb appeal: how to make the most of your café’s outdoor space
As foodservice reopens outdoors, many urban retailers will be wondering how they can make the most of their limited outdoor space to maximise trade
The middle of April marked the reopening of foodservice in England, though the stipulation that only outdoor dining was allowed will have been prohibitive for many businesses.
For those with ample room, the news would have been met with jubilation, but for many city- and town-centre delis for whom outdoor space is limited or non-existent, the celebrations may have been more muted. And with social distancing still in place, many businesses indoor space will still be tight.
However, the Government’s extension of its pavement licences relaxation – brought into effect last year – and other local measures provide some hope. Some retailers are finding that al fresco dining is the way forward and others are even ditching cramped inside seating for good.
Secretary Of State for Housing, Communities & Local Government Robert Jenrick announced in March that it would be even easier for businesses to obtain temporary licences for tables and seating on pavements, “allowing them to increase their outdoor capacity quickly and at a low cost”.
One business taking advantage of the scheme is Nottingham city-centre deli, Delilah Fine Foods. The city’s council is offering free applications to encourage trade back to the once-thriving shopping district.
“It’s been incredibly dead here,” says owner Sangita Tryner. “But it’s now really starting to pick up. I’m anticipating a much greater boon to trade from the outdoor seating this time. When we did this before, it was winter and it was just to show that we were open.”
When the legislation was introduced last year, Tryner noticed that the nearby Lace Market area had been transformed into a hub of al fresco eateries. “It was like parts of London,” says Tryner, “and it got me thinking, ‘what can we do?’”
Her application for a licence for Delilah was fast-tracked, taking just a week to be approved, and cost the business nothing. Now, the neighbouring unit, a fashion retailer, has closed its doors permanently, leaving unused space. “The council has said that we can put tables outside that unit as well. That gives us another six tables,” she says. “Ten tables is worth having.”
Another town-centre business that has taken advantage of the dispensation is No.2 Pound Street. The Wendover-based wine and cheese merchant’s annual licensing has been slashed from £300 to £100.
Owner James Grant also hopes to make use of the market square opposite the shop to expand the retailer’s outdoor seating with marquees – something the business did last year.
“We’re hoping to use the market area across the road on Fridays through to Sundays to give more space for people to have their coffees, tasting platters, and takeaway glasses of wine,” says Grant.
“Last year they allowed us the use of that space for free, but now the council have proposed a nominal charge, but we’re currently negotiating with them over that as we believe it encourages trade in the centre.”
Grant says that coronavirus has inspired a permanent change in No.2’s retail-foodservice split. Previously, the relatively small space had seating for customers to enjoy their cheese and charcuterie tasters, but instead, the business will be keeping its outside area and also making use of a newly converted old storeroom to free up more floor space inside the shop.
“The pandemic has made us more switched on to where we want to focus the business – we’ll never lose the foodservice side of things, but we did need to rethink. We were being busy fools.”
Back in Nottingham, Tryner is putting the final touches on the business’s new outdoor offer – reducing the menu size while keeping the classics that customers have been pining for during lockdown. She is also ordering more branded tables, chairs and barriers.
At least to begin with, Delilah will be offering the seating area as a place for its customers to eat their takeaway, as the current COVID legislation requires sit-down ordering, and the extra cost that entails could make the venture unviable.
“We’re gearing up for it being pretty busy, though,” says Tryner. “With the weather improving and people stuck for things to do, we’re hoping that a trip to the town centre will be bringing the crowds back.
“Having the outdoor seating is really about saying, ‘here we are, we’re open, come and have a look’.”
With the final details coming together, now the only issue is the airborne pests that have taken to sitting in the errant buddleia that has sprouted above Delilah’s storefront.
“Maybe there’ll be a roasted pigeon special on the menu!”