How your downtown can reimagine its summer patios and bump outs
Lots of small-town downtowns are experimenting with temporary parking space bump outs for summer restaurant patios.
But here’s one problem: Too many bump out patios are barren and uninviting. There’s little ambiance. There’s no design creativity.
And worse, bump outs are often viewed as being for one purpose: restaurant patios.
Just having some labourers come in one morning and lay down some deckblocks and erect the same wood decking and a 2×4 wood railing in a few parking spaces every year barely qualifies as streetscaping or placemaking.
Before your downtown races ahead or erects bump outs again, take a breath and reimagine what makes a great sidewalk patio. Perhaps those bump outs can be used for other purposes yet still have a powerful effect on streetscaping.
Bump outs don’t have to be cookie cutter or always patios. They could be a temporary sidewalk or a parklette or a walkthrough art gallery or a mini performance theatre or whatever else you can dream up. You can have multiple bump outs with each being used in a different way. This approach also increases the options and accessibility for more businesses beyond only restaurants having bump outs.
For this article, let’s look specifically at reimagining parking space bump outs and sidewalk patio experiences in your small downtown.
Use bump outs as the new temporary sidewalk
For some reason, many downtowns only think of the bump out as the location for a summer patio. STOP! (Also, see paragraph #6 above). You can flip that whole thinking. The bump out can become the pedestrian detour. And if you add some ambiance (benches, plants and potted trees or even some art), you can create an instant mini ‘experience.’ People love to sit and hang out in parklettes too, not just patios. By the way, patios are typically only accessible to those who buy food from the restaurant.
Put the summer patio at the storefront!
The optimal place for a summer patio is directly on the sidewalk in front of the business. A patio works best when it can be an extension of the business. When the patio is pushed away and onto a bump out, the sidewalk is turned into a divide between the customer and the business. Instead, an integrated solution oozes vibrancy because it puts a crowd directly in front of the business’s door. This screams cool vibe. When you allow a business to temporarily expand its footprint directly out its front door and on to the sidewalk (instead of a bump out), you allow an all-in-one approach and a business-friendly approach. This will have a much higher likelihood of increasing sales because the consumer already feels like they are ‘in’ the establishment. It’s superior to having patrons walk with a coffee or muffin or takeout and cross the sidewalk to reach a bump out shoved six metres away from the storefront.
By putting patios directly at storefront, you also make the space far more easily serviced by staff. That can help increase sales.
Encourage business creativity for sidewalk patios
You don’t have to be a downtown that again hauls out those same deckblocks, wood decking and 2×4 railings for a cookie-cutter patio look. The cookie-cutter approach to patios kills creativity and individuality. Give businesses the ability to create their summer sidewalk patios. No, we’re not talking requiring architectural drawings or some layer of red tape and paperwork that is ridiculously cumbersome. But encourage a design plan. Why? The key word here is streetscape. A patio can have a design. It can have greenery. It can have railings lined with flower boxes. It can have colours. It can have wow. It doesn’t have to be all 2×4 wood or 1×6 decking. Give businesses the power to be creative. Encourage it!
You can’t place only deckblocks, wood decking and 2×4 railings in a parking space and shout “We now have sidewalk patios, come on down!”
It doesn’t work like that.
Just as most people wouldn’t flock to a restaurant that has a rundown or zero-ambiance interior, the same applies to temporary patios. People might grab a coffee and a quick bite and sit in a cookie-cutter ugly patio before rushing on their way, but they certainly won’t spend an afternoon, order multiple items, or text their friends and say “Hey, we’re downtown on a really cool new patio, you should come down!”
You have to give people a reason to come downtown.
People don’t talk about patios.
People talk about the great experience on a patio.
No matter what kind of temporary summer patios (bump outs or sidewalk) you have in your downtown, each one absolutely needs one ingredient: Wow.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Based in the woods and working far beyond, Gregg McLachlan is recognized as a leading trainer, creative marketing rethinker and rural social media strategist in southwestern Ontario. He works with small businesses and organizations who want to elevate their branding. He has been a conference and workshop guest speaker for rural downtown business associations, provincial government agencies, municipal economic development departments and tourism organizations, as well as provincial and national nonprofits. His new conference and workshop talk for 2018 is entitled, 2017 Is Sooooo Yesterday, and helps organizations understand how social media is evolving and how to stay ahead and be effective. Contact Gregg at firstname.lastname@example.org
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