Commercial Heating : New lease of life for outdoor spaces

Taking the indoors outside

Premises breaching the smoking ban will attract heavy fines of up to £2,500 from July, so company’s need to be actively seeking ways to avoid falling foul of the new law. And yet with dire forecasts of decreasing takings as a result of people choosing to stay home and drink where they can smoke, what can be done to offset the inevitable effects of the ban?

The key is to take the indoors outside. By looking at the elements that people currently enjoy in a hospitality atmosphere – drinking, smoking, sports TV and food – and offering them in an al fresco environment, venues will find that most of the negative impacts of the ban can be offset by an increase in business attracted by a new outdoor (and smoking-tolerant) environment.

If English trends mirror those in the Republic of Ireland, where a ban was introduced back in March 2004, people will start to favour those establishments where they can continue to enjoy everything they like about their current venue of choice, but outside, as long as it comes without additional discomfort.

In fact, the utilisation of outdoor areas offers great benefits to those establishments that have the space available. One year on from the start of the Irish ban, for example, the Caterer & Hotelkeeper trade publication reported that typical Saturday night takings at O’Donoghue’s pub in Dublin (one of Ireland’s best-known pubs) were up from €8,000 to €14,000, as it had taken full advantage of its beer garden and had even had to take on two extra staff to cope with the influx of custom.

Heat equals comfort

However, simply throwing a couple of planks and an umbrella into a square of concrete isn’t going to win over anybody, even a desperate smoker, and this is where giving some thought to the customer’s total outdoor experience is going to pay dividends.

It’s clear that in this country, even in summer, keeping customers warm is half the battle. The most hardened smoker will admit that it’s not much fun standing outside in a sub-zero gale to feed the nicotine habit – we live in the UK, after all, not the balmy Mediterranean. But given adequate warmth, a comfortable seat, maybe even a TV… and you’re starting to look at a different scenario entirely.

So, is effective outdoor heating really achievable in these days of rocketing fuel costs and environmental concerns? Any temptation to screen off the outdoor area to preserve heat skirts close to being covered by the new law, as even spaces deemed partially enclosed have been encompassed by the ban – this includes areas such as building entrances, the traditional gathering place for office workers on a cigarette break. Taking this into account, localised ‘spot’ heating is the obvious answer, as it’s clearly not economical or eco-friendly to heat the whole of the outdoor area.

Your first thought might be of a gas patio heater, but think again. All those fossil fuel emissions floating up directly into the atmosphere – talk about paying to heat fresh air. Plus there’s the hassle of keeping adequate stocks of portable gas bottles, the worry of storing them safely, and the hazards of using them in a cooking environment, e.g. barbecues, and the whole thing starts to look like more aggravation than it’s worth.

Emission-free electric

Electric heating is a safe, silent alternative, completely odourless, emission-free and 100% efficient at the point of use, unlike gas patio heaters, which lose around 60-70% of their heating energy in the form of emissions. Electric quartz heaters, such as the new OPH wall-mounted patio heater from Dimplex, produce a highly directional beam of short wavelength radiant heat, which covers a given area extremely effectively.

Depending on model, mounting height and angle, a heated area of up to 10m² from a single heater is achievable, meaning that even large outdoor spaces can easily enjoy a comfortable warmth, with the heater’s warm glow demonstrating clearly to customers that there is heating in operation, to tempt them into the outdoor area.

Heat people, not the air

People within the beam’s range feel the heat instantly, literally within seconds, in the same way as they do with the sun’s rays, as natural sunlight is rich in short wavelength heat. Running costs are minimised because these products don’t raise the overall ambient temperatures. It’s the only form of outdoor heating where the heat doesn’t get blown away, as it’s the people and objects within the ‘throw’ of the heater that get heated, not the air in between. Plus there’s no air circulation to stir and disturb dust, never pleasant if there’s food and drink around.

What’s more, for economy of use, the OPR range can be linked to Dimplex’s range of timers and PIR detector switches, that will automatically switch the unit/s on or off depending on whether the area below the heater is occupied. If the space does empty for any reason, the heating is simply switched off until it’s required again. The PIR unit can detect movement in an area of 180 degrees over up to 15 metres if required (the detection area can be reduced), so there’s little possibility of people moving into the ‘throw’ of the heater without activating its heat.

Smooth ceramics

As an alternative to quartz heaters, ceramic radiant heaters such as the Dimplex CXD range employ similar technology, but don’t have the distraction of the glow effect. While they don’t quite offer the instant response of the quartz heaters, they do heat up effectively in just a couple of minutes, using long wavelength infrared heat to heat people and objects within the throw, not the ambient air. Ideal for situations where robust but discreet heating is required, they are also compatible with the Dimplex PIR detector for close management of running costs.

The big match

So what about those outdoor TVs? Forward-looking managers have already installed the rain-resistant big-screen plasma units in establishments in the UK. Encased in aluminium and protected by galvanised rust-proof paint, they can stand up to just about anything the UK climate can throw at them. And in case emotions run high during the match, the 3.5mm toughened glass screen can even withstand a hurled pint. They cost a few thousand pounds, but in terms of taking the indoors outside, they can’t be beaten!

Open your doors

Ultimately the leaders in the hospitality market will be those offering what people want, and in the case of the forthcoming smoking ban, this will be establishments with welcoming outdoor spaces where customers can enjoy a cigarette with their pint. Fortunately, with electric outdoor heating, the hospitality industry can continue to offer comfort to all patrons without spending a fortune, and the bottom line is likely to feel the benefit.

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