Al fresco dining isn't just for Europeans anymore--outdoor seating is practically a requirement for bistros and white-tablecloth establishments alike these days. Patio seating lets you maximize your space with a minimal investment, but there's always the question of how to ensure that your patrons are the only ones enjoying the breeze from your tables, and you're not providing a sidewalk rest stop. You've got to find the balance between inviting customers and rebuffing passersby, the idea being to turn the passerby into a customer.
A border of some sort is the answer, but one that is charming and consistent with your esthetic. Landscaping the space and adding some of these architectural features will create an outdoor space your customers will love.
In it's simplest form, a balustrade is a series of columns topped by a rail. A baluster is the English derivative of the Italian balaustra, or pomegranate, for the bulbous post's (column) resemblance to that fruit. You see balustrades everywhere, from ornate versions at Versailles to simple ones on New England saltbox houses. A balustrade on your patio delineates your space from common areas, and provides a safety feature if your alfresco space is on a raised platform. The balusters can be plain columns or highly decorative, depending on the mood you're trying to create.
A balustrade along the perimeter of your patio may need a gate to meet fire code, and if so the gate is made to blend in with the balustrade. If you are not required to provide an exit gate, the balustrade provides a barrier so that your patron can enjoy the outdoors, but is a deterrent for non-patrons to leap over the railing.
Worthington Millwork's balustrade and railing systems meet commercial and residential building codes.
Columns are an attractive option when you're using landscaping to delineate your outdoor boundaries. If you aren't planting in the ground, a low border of planters with columns spaced at regular intervals softens the edges and provides a natural barrier between your patrons and the sidewalk. As with the balustrades, your columns can be as plain or fancy as you like--mix rustic columns with a modern minimalist decor, or add in intricate-looking Corinthian columns with ivy trailing down from a pergola. You can string lights around the columns for a romantic ambience, this works well if you're trying to camouflage a rather pedestrian concrete patio.
Columns also enhance a soft seating area--if you've got an outdoor lounge with sofas, they delineate the dining area from the bar by creating a room within the patio.
Columns made by Worthington Millwork are load bearing, so they are functional as well as decorative.
A railing system is a basically a balustrade's Puritan cousin--it's simple posts--usually in black or white--headed by a horizontal rail. Railings work well for a more casual place; if your outdoor seating involves round concrete tables and food comes in plastic baskets, this is the option for you. This is fundamentally deck railing, and is better suited for restaurants near the beach, where wind and salt are an issue. If your restaurant is on the water, you'll need some sort of barrier between you and the water, and a nautical rope running through piers might not meet the building codes--a railing is an effective option for this.
As mentioned above, local fire codes may require a gate to exit your outdoor area. A gate is still a nice architectural element for your patio perimeter--if you have the real estate for an outside hostess stand it's a functional entry; if not it's a good way to ease traffic during busy times. Your gate design complements the balustrade or railing you've already chosen; if you're using landscaping as your border you can pick any gate design and install it between the plantings.