The best outdoor shade options head-to-head

For bars and restaurants, having a terrace or a garden available for customers means more seats and more revenue, now that the warm season is approaching.

Or so you'd think.

In reality, setting up an outdoor space alone may not be enough. If your shading solution is not appropriate for your venue, or it’s not aesthetic, you won’t be using the space to its full potential and will be leaving money on the table. So how do you choose the right one for you?

There are many ways to add shade to an outdoor space, but for the hospitality industry, we can narrow them down to three: cantilever outdoor umbrellas, retractable awnings and fixed panels or screens. Each one has its pros and cons.  Let’s look at them in detail.

Pros and cons of cantilever outdoor umbrellas.

High-quality outdoor umbrellas (not the cheaper models you would get from your local hardware store) have several advantages:

  • They're ideal if the space is detached from the main building
  • A single umbrella can cover a large area
  • They're self-supported, meaning they don't need any fixed structure (unless they are wall-mounted)
  • They offer total protection from UV rays
  • They are very flexible, being simple to raise and lower if they are needed or not
  • In general, higher quality umbrellas made with material perform very well in winds at levels that people spend time outdoors in.

In addition to that, a cantilever umbrella - with a base placed on the side and the canopy hanging from above - will be a great fit for areas intended for events with intense foot traffic, like garden parties or barbecues, or for swimming pools, where it would be impossible to place a centred-pole model.

However, if you're not going for the best quality options, a cantilever outdoor umbrella will be the wrong choice, as it won’t last long enough and may not provide adequate UV protection.

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Pros and cons of retractable awnings.

Retractable awnings are the go-to shading solution for many shops, but they also work great for bars and restaurants:

  • They're ideal if the outdoor area is adjacent to the main building
  • They’re wall-supported, so they will take no space on the floor
  • They can be retracted when there’s no need for shade or the weather is bad
  • Many models come with an electric motor, which makes retracting it even easier (that will prove useful during peak service hours when you want to tend to patrons, rather than wasting time with a manual crank)
  • They can also cool the temperature on the inside as they prevent the sun from entering

Cons of retractable awnings:

  • They must have a suitable fixed structure to mount to
  • Their flexibility comes at a cost
  • The electric motors are temperamental and can break or won't work in the event of power shortages
  • Canvas awnings are prone to growing mildew and mould, so they will need frequent maintenance and cleaning. Also, a dirty awning will give a bad impression to customers
  • Less flexible or durable than an umbrella, their wind performance isn't as great, nor can they be closed in as quick a time.

Fixed panels

Fixed panels - also known as a drop-down awning - can be placed at the four corners of your outdoor space. They have two main advantages:

  • Fixed panels provide more protection from rain and wind, so your customers can enjoy sitting outside even when the weather is not that great
  • Panels can be used for longer throughout the year, even when temperatures start to go lower, but not so low as to make people want to sit inside

However, there are three main problems with them:

  • Fixed panels don't provide shade overhead
  • Panels require a fixed supporting structure, which is expensive to erect and may require more need for maintenance
  • They tend to create a closed environment, so customers may feel like they are sitting inside, losing the outdoor dining feel and style

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Always go for high-quality products.

In conclusion, the right solution will depend on a few questions. For example, will people sit down or stand/talk/walk free? Does your space face the street or is it a back garden? And does the summer breeze tend to become a bit aggressive so you may need some extra protection?

Whatever your choice, always remember to go for high-quality products: a shading solution is an investment that should last for a long time, so the cheaper options will always cost you more in the long run.

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