Emma McGeown
Emma McGeown is a Research Analyst for Mintel Ireland. Her focus areas include food & drink, retail and tourism within the Irish market.

The pub and restaurant industry in Ireland has been hugely impacted by COVID-19 with many operators having to spend time and money reinventing how they do business. Dining outside is increasingly presenting itself as an effective way of minimising risk exposure. 

Mintel’s COVID-19 consumer research tracker found that nearly six out of ten consumers across the Isle of Ireland feel uncomfortable going to a restaurant or bar indoors, but over a third said they felt comfortable going to the pub to sit outside.

There are opportunities for pubs and restaurants to revamp outdoor spaces to offer greater emotional and physical safety for customers. Here are some of the ways Irish restaurants and pubs are utilising outdoor spaces.  

The Evolution of Public Spaces

In Dublin city, surrounding streets off the shopping-hub Grafton Street were pedestrianised during the bank holiday weekend (1st-3rd August 2020). Some segments of public streets were shut down to traffic between 11am to 11pm on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, with these closures set to continue every weekend in August 2020 to accommodate greater capacity for customers outdoors.

Source: Twitter, @ DubCityCouncil

In Cork city, Princes Street was also pedestrianised in June 2020 and has continued to remain car-free – providing permanent outdoor seating for operators. The pedestrianisation of public streets in urban areas across Ireland allows local pubs, cafes and restaurants to increase their seating capacity and offer more flexibility for a socially distanced meal outdoors.

Source: Twitter @ Corkcitycouncil

Repurposing Urban Spaces into Beer Gardens

With more consumers drinking and eating outdoors, pubs and restaurants are finding new ways to expand their beer gardens, which can prove difficult particularly for urban operators. The Bone Yard by Pug Ugly’s in Belfast has gone one step further with the revamping of an unused 16,000 sq ft outdoor space.

The Bone Yard, which opened at the end of July 2020, has been designed to create an outdoor ‘festival entertainment environment’ while strictly adhering to social distancing measures. The yard offers a fully stocked bar with table service, food trucks, a 17 sq m stretch tent covering picnic tables and converted shipping containers and outdoor toilets.

Source: @ theboneyardbelfast

Winter is Coming

Ireland is never guaranteed good weather, not even in the Summer! Therefore pubs and restaurants must take the unpredictable climate into consideration when reinventing outdoor spaces. This will be imperative going into the colder months. Pubs and restaurants must invest in outdoor shelter from the rain and wind while also providing substantial heating for late nights. Other operators have installed TVs, sound systems and bandstands as a way of creating a pub-like atmosphere for drinkers outside.

Some restaurants and pubs are already experienced in outdoor seating in winter, take for example Cutters Wharf in Belfast, which launched Winter Igloos in recent years allowing punters to drink and dine outside without catching a chill. The Igloos can facilitate groups of six to eight with drinks packages and food and drink packages available to create a cosy atmosphere on a winter’s night.

Source: @ Cutterswharf

What’s Next?

Restaurants must continue to evolve and adapt to changing consumers behaviours and comfort levels when dining and drinking out of the home. The colder months present challenges to operators but offering heated, socially distanced outdoor spaces will allow pubs and restaurants to facilitate increased capacity and stay afloat.

Going forward, pubs can provide greater unique and novelty experiences in outdoor seating during the colder months as social distancing prevails. Winter Igloos, for example, combine social distancing with novelty experiences but other venues can look at perhaps transforming beer gardens into a German-style market with individual log cabin huts for seating. Operators should explore these novel concepts further as a way of providing a safe and exciting out-of-home experience.