Is there any better feeling than sipping a cold, refreshing beverage outside on a gloriously sunny day?
In New England, as of May those days are still intermittent, with fickle Mother Nature alternating between monsoons and record highs; but already local outdoor-friendly bars and restaurants are starting to dust off their patios and decks and bring out their sidewalk tables and chairs to serve tasty cocktails, wines, and beers to guests al fresco.
Whether you’ve got a full-fledged large setup with a dozen large round tables with umbrellas, to the few tiny cafe low-tops the city permits you to have on busy city sidewalks, or even if you’ve just got huge windows you can finally open up to the fresh air—harnessing that beautiful summer sunshine is where it’s at. Here in the Ocean State, we are fortunate to be gifted with myriad opportunities for seaside or waterfront beverage enjoyment. Some bars are located literally on or over the water, which can pose its own issues when hurricane season arrives. I’ve put together a few key things to consider for outdoor beverage consumption from a guest standpoint:
1. Optimizing space (and views if you have them)
Before Midtown Oyster Bar opened in my hometown of Newport, RI, its owners renovated the old Thames Street building into a multi-level establishment with three dining rooms, two bars, and two roof decks which were obviously constructed to compensate for neighboring buildings to give the best view possible of the nearby harbor.
2. Preparing for weather
Summer rain showers can arrive spontaneously. Make sure that there is adequate rain protection coverage for sensitive bar equipment and tables where people might be enjoying food. I remember eating a magnificent lobster roll on Matunuck Oyster Bar’s famous waterfront terrace one time when a full-on monsoon started pouring from the skies! Fortunately, the restaurant had its heavy-duty plastic see-through awnings and temporary walls in place to keep out the rain, but it was still very dramatic—although certainly memorable!
Another time in Newport, my family had a much less pleasant experience when we were eating out at a restaurant I won’t name whose floors are highly vulnerable to rainwater and flooding; we were quite literally sitting in puddles. Make sure that when making use of your outside space, you take weather into account.
Sometimes, even in the summer, nights can be chilly in certain parts of the country—especially near the water. Outdoor heating lamps are typically a smart investment or the swanky hotspot Rooftop at the Providence G uses chic modern fire pits for its guests to relax around.
3. Safety always comes first
Depending on your clientele or type of bar, serving drinks in glasses outside can be a really bad idea; plastic is usually safer, but in more upscale establishments it might be in poor taste.
Make sure as well that bathrooms are available, accessible, and clearly marked depending on the size of outdoor crowd you attract.
4. Minding the wildlife
Bugs can be a major problem in some areas. Nothing ruins an evening worse than coming home with mosquito bites or to have gnats, flies, or bees buzzing around your drink. Mosquito magnets can be a smart investment in certain places.
And, although flowers are lovely, they can also attract bees, so try not to cultivate them in areas where guests will be standing or sitting for long periods of time.
5. Make sure it’s all legal
You will have no doubt researched your local laws and restrictions for your own establishment, but make sure that they are adequately enforced, which sometimes might require bringing in additional seasonal security.
In Providence, it is sometimes legal to bring drinks onto the sidewalk in front of the bar provided that there are tables outside for sitting and it is part of the actual premises, but alcohol cannot be taken outside of certain parameters. Make sure you’ve done your due diligence.
6. Consider rules for/against smoking
I am just old enough to have briefly experienced the bar scene in New England as a legal drinker before the law pushed cigarette smokers outdoors, and I have to say I don’t miss coming home after a night out with my clothes reeking of smoke.
Depending on where I go nowadays, it seems that some bars permit outdoor smoking in certain areas, and others don’t. Of course the comfort and safety of your guests should be foremost, and you also don’t want smoke wafting into the establishment, which is more likely to happen during summer months if windows or doors are left open to let in the fresh air. Again, just keep an eye on it and make sure that any smoking-friendly areas make sense given your layout and are up to code with legal restrictions in your town or city.
7. Manage noise levels as best you can
This issue is similar to smoking concerns; if your neighbors complain enough, you could get visited by the police. Make sure that you are abiding by local codes and operating within the parameters that apply uniquely to your establishment.
8. Be creative and stand out from the crowd
Assuming you’ve done your homework and ironed out all of the issues mentioned above, there are plenty of fun, creative ways that you can attract more patronage through celebrating the great outdoors in your own unique way.
Here in Providence, Rick’s Roadhouse is a go-to for cornhole, the Rooftop at Providence G showcases regular live music at nights, E&O Tap has occasional crayfish boils when the crustaceans are in season, and Ogie’s Trailer Park opens up its popular outdoor tiki bar: the perfect complement to the fake trailers and kitschy neon palm-trees of its 60’s Los Angeles trailer park-inspired décor.
Whether your view is of ocean waves or city streets and whether you’re a hole-in-the-wall or a multi-level juggernaut, there are always creative ways to make the most of the summer heat while keeping your guests cool with delicious seasonal beverages.
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