By Michelle Rauch
From the curb appeal of the front door to the interior of the home and out the back door into your yard, adding plants and flowers creates an welcoming environment. The same holds true for the patio of a restaurant. Think about your favorite restaurant patio. What about it makes it a pleasant place to eat? Are there containers overflowing with lush greenery and vibrant flowers? Maybe there is a beautiful fountain with the soothing sound of a subtle trickle of water. A patio with plantings will likely invite you to dine there. That’s not only a good experience for diners, it’s good for business.
Just as you put thought into what you include in your home garden, a lot of thought should go into restaurant patio design. Since food is the focus, no fuss varieties that require minimal maintenance are advised. In that effort, balance needs to be made to avoid flowering plants that will attract bees, mosquitos and other uninvited pesky biting insects. Citronella tops that list, coming in as both a low maintenance variety as well as an insect repellent. It’s typically found as an ornamental grass in climate zones where frost is not a problem; however, it can be grown in a large container. Citronella is useful as an accent plant that does double duty deterring mosquitos from swooping in to feast on you. Bee balm also repels mosquitos with its strong odor. While it’s a repellent to biting insects, it does attract butterflies and hummingbirds.
Marigolds also channel the power of smell to fend off pesky pests. Marigolds are best placed at the border of the patio as they can attract wasps, so tabletops are discouraged for placement. Other choices that round out the list are sweet potato vines, hanging ferns, catnip, lavender, and peppermint.
Those are the plants, what about placement? It all depends on the space. A tiered terrace offers the opportunity for in-ground landscaping, but most patios are working with limited space. No problem. It’s hard to go wrong with hanging baskets. Instead of a railing around the patio, a row of planter boxes can add a visually appealing border to enclose the space. Flowers planted in containers offer the flexibility of placing them strategically without permanence. Many restaurants do not have the luxury of a dedicated patio space, but they are not letting that get in the way of offering al fresco dining. I love seeing the growing number of Lexington restaurants that are lining the sidewalk in front of their business with tables. Something as simple as a glass vase with cut flowers, even a bud vase with one single flower makes for a simplistic, elegant touch to the table.
Ambiance does not come from the greenery alone. I like subtle lighting in my yard and the same is true when I am dining out. Whether it’s a string of delicate white lights strung across the patio or hanging in a tree, or hanging lanterns, lighting is important. During the day, so is shade. Table umbrellas, an awning or lattice with greenery are decorative ways to cut out the heat of the sun. The sound of a fountain or pond is a bonus that can create a garden-like environment. Be it small and simple or large and grand; a great outdoor patio is good for business. It has the potential to attract new customers while keeping the regulars coming back.