A seasonal patio is causing some debate in downtown Milwaukie, OR.
The small patio, or “parklet,” was installed in the two parking spaces in front of a downtown wine bar called Wine:30, and provides seating for about 25 people.
The patio opened in September, as part of the city’s two-year pilot program to test the parklets on city streets, an initiative intended to build thriving business districts.
The initial idea was for these parklets to be seasonal, open June 2014 through November 2014, and then again April 2015 through November 2015. The parklet was supposed to be easy to take apart so it could be removed for the winter.
But owner Jesse Cannelos realized it would be much more costly and difficult to remove than he thought. It will cost around $4,000, money Cannelos would rather use to develop a lunch menu. He has asked the city to allow him to keep the parklet up year-round.
However, other downtown Milwaukie businesses are not thrilled with the parklet taking up two valuable parking spaces, especially during the winter.
“Weren’t these things supposed to be seasonal and removed in the winter when consumers are less willing to walk any further than necessary in inclement weather?” says Neil Hankerson, executive vice president of downtown Milwaukie’s Dark Horse Comics.
But an outdoor dining space often proves to be an invaluable addition to any restaurant. An analysis by Vucurevich Simons Advisory Group shows that adding a patio space can return a gross profit of 65%.
The addition of a patio increases a restaurant’s dining area, and can increase its number of customers, as outdoor dining grows more and more popular. Cannelos has found the parklet to be very popular.
“It’s been sensational,” Cannelos said. “People have been loving it.”
Dining al fresco “seems to make everything taste better,” says Tiffanie Hawkins, marketing and events manager, Arizona Restaurant Association. “Whatever the reason – cozy charm, spectacular views, the balmy air – [guests] instinctively realize that a good meal under the sky delivers life-is-good pleasure.”
And while outdoor dining is not always ideal, there are simple ways for restaurant owners to make their customers a little more willing to take a seat outside.
Many people are reluctant to eat outside, because they’re afraid they’ll have to share their meal with insects. But screening in a patio space can help to prevent bugs from bothering patrons.
“There is always a nice refreshing feel to eating outside, especially when the weather is nice. Until you’re reminded why you never sit outside in the first place — those pests!” exclaims Frank Kerski of Screenex. “Who wants to be bothered by bugs while you’re eating? That’s why retractable screens are great for restaurants. It makes the dining experience what it should be. All the outdoors, no pests.”
Weather is another concern for outdoor dining, as it surely is this time of year in Milwaukie. Customers flock inside for warmth when the temperatures start to drop, but restaurants can keep the patio alive by simply adding heat lamps.
Conversely, when the weather is too warm in the summer, an awning to provide shade can make all the difference. And regardless of the the weather, offering food or drink specials for patio customers will always draw a crowd.
In a statement on the ribbon cutting for Wine:30’s patio last month, mayor Jeremy Ferguson expressed excitement and optimism for the effect the parklet initiative would have on the downtown area.
“This is an exciting addition to our downtown,” Ferguson said. “Parklets and special events add vibrancy to our already charming Main Street. I commend our staff for putting together this innovative program, and I commend the owner of Wine:30, Jesse Cannelos, for stepping up and creating a really exciting amenity.”
The city council will decide on Cannelos’ extension request on Tuesday, November 18.