The mainstream media presents a gloomy picture of consumers’ spending power, drawing conclusions about the ‘inevitable’ impact on hospitality industry.

But while some bars and restaurants have already suffered as a result of the cost of living crisis, those that are strong, innovative and resourceful can survive. And as the weather warms and the evenings lengthen, there’s every reason to shake off the winter gloom.

By Simon Atha, Director, Boyer (part of Leaders Romans Group)

One of the ways in which this can be achieved is using existing outside spaces to create the facilities that everyone looks forward to as the summer approaches.  Inviting alfresco hospitality, whether in the traditional café culture style or something more alternative presents numerous opportunities for diversification.

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Opportunities are endless, from traditional weddings, birthdays, christenings and funerals to sporting events, live music performances, beer and cider festivals and national occasions – such as the coronations. You’ll know what will appeal to your local customers, and you can create more ideas for outdoor occasions by asking them directly.

And even when the summer disappoints, shelters, heaters and cosy blankets can still make the experience safe and enjoyable.

It goes without saying that maximising your outdoor space means maximising your profits. But it can also help attract passing trade, and options such as awnings can provide cost-effective advertising for your events and suppliers.

So its worth considering what can and can’t be achieved within planning law. In the most simple terms, there are three categories of consent: no planning permission required; temporary uses and structures that fall under the category of ‘permitted development and those which require full planning consent through the standard planning application process.

Without planning consent, hospitality owners and managers may introduce a variety of temporary and moveable structures to help diversify and extend their offer – such as moveable play equipment, tables and chairs, large parasols and patio heaters.

Since Covid, permission has existed for ‘temporary’ structures (essentially, anything which can be moved if required), for a limited period of 28 days per year. This may sound restrictive, but 28 days is every Saturday for half a year, or every Saturday and Sunday in June, July and August. This use would cover the use of a marquee, pagoda or jumbrella.

Then there’s Class BB, which allows for 120 days’ use of temporary structures, following prior approval by the local planning authority. This allows for any of those features listed above to be used outside on a daily basis over the summer.

The prior approvals process is not complicated or time-consuming. In very simple terms, the legislation requires that the structures do not exceed 3 metres in height or occupy more than 50% of the footprint of the building, or 50 square metres.

Change of use planning consent which falls under Permitted Development Rights frequently covers other changes that might be necessary to host al fresco dining. For example, louvred roof systems offer a new and unique way to expand and improve outdoor areas: with motorised blades that can rotate up to 135°, they can open up to allow a directed yet natural airflow, while also providing shade by responding to the sun’s position. They can also be shut if needed, providing a water tight seal to prevent the tables and chairs becoming wet.

Permanent awnings, outdoor rooms and pods fall under this category.  Similarly, these provide a great opportunity for diversification and all year-round protection from sun, wind and rain. You might also want to consider louvered bioclimactic pods. Similar to louvred roof systems, these are retractable fabric roofs with aluminium blades which twist when operated to be opened, and let light and air in and out or closed to form a ceiling. In some cases extensions, conservatories and the creation of rooftop terraces can be achieved through permitted development rights, but it is important to seek advice on this as whether permitted development rights or full planning permission is required will impact on timing.

To serve the extra footfall, additional parking might be provided on adjoining land.  Under the principles of ‘temporary’ use, this is allowed for up to 28 days without planning consent; for more than 28 days, change of use consent it required.

For bars which don’t provide food but may want to extend their offer or even host a food festival, there’s the opportunity for street food vans. This doesn’t require planning consent specifically, though licensing for food safety may be required.

The industry calculates that even a very simple outdoor space can increase revenue by up to 30% – in most circumstances, as very little cost.