In the narrow window of the year during which Rochesterians get to enjoy warm weather, places to socialize that make use of the outdoors are in high demand. For those fleeting summer months, having outdoor spaces to offer customers can make or break the season for local businesses in the food, beverage and hospitality industries.
“People are really looking for that outdoor space, so I think nowadays it’s really relevant to offer a space where people can enjoy themselves outdoors,” says Kyle Strack, director of food and beverage for MC Management, which owns the Hyatt Regency Rochester, Strathallan Rochester Hotel & Spa and the Rochester Riverside Hotel (formerly the Radisson Rochester Riverside).
Strack says playing up these open-air areas, particularly in downtown hotels where green space is limited, can be a big help in securing major bookings. “People enjoy what they see up here so the value-added part of it is definite,” he says.
Opening its new City Center roof terrace last summer has been a boon to the Hyatt. Now, despite being in the heart of downtown, the hotel has a peaceful, open-air spot for corporate gatherings or wedding parties looking for a casual space to unwind after a long event.
“It’s very important for this particular property,” says Jay Rettberg, the Hyatt’s general manager. “(Being in the heart of downtown,) there’s not an area where people can just walk out and sit outside, so I think that’s why you see terraces popping up all over in urban areas. People just want to be outside enjoying the weather, drinking a nice cold beer in the sun — especially in Upstate New York.”
And that can also provide a competitive edge in landing bigger conventions that otherwise might look to meet in bigger cities’ hotels to take advantage of their cosmopolitan amenities.
“They’ve booked in other big cities, and big cities have these types of amenities, so I think it gives us more relevance on a national level,” says Travania Clark, director of sales at the Hyatt.
Making use of open-air space is so important to MC Management that it will be the centerpiece of renovations at Rochester Riverside Hotel, Rettberg notes.
Capitalizing on the city’s ROC the Riverway initiative, the Riverside will get rid of the covered driveway that currently separates the hotel from the Genesee River and replace it with open pedestrian plazas, complete with shade trees and outdoor cafe seating.
“One of the future successes of the city is going to be this big emphasis on the river,” Rettberg says. “We are embracing that, along with more outdoor space, with these plazas that overlook the water, because we think it’s very important thing the city is doing.”
Following these trends may seem inconsequential to some businesses in the food, beverage and hospitality industries, but on the whole it does add up, Rettberg says, by reshaping the Rochester experience to that of a more modern city.
“No one had considered downtown Rochester as a viable place to go for a social experience in some time, but now you can go downtown, park your car in a garage and walk to all of these great venues,” Rettberg says. “We’re following the right trends that are making the city usable again.”
When Joshua Miles, president of SCN Hospitality, and his team opened the Mexican restaurant Bitter Honey on Railroad Street last summer, creating an open-air setting was a priority. Where there was previously a loading dock, they built a raised patio and installed more decorative overhead doors that open up the whole front side of the restaurant — an inviting setting for passersby on their way to and from the Public Market.
“Opening up the whole front area is like being at the bar and outside at the same time,” Miles says.
Al fresco seating is a mainstay for Miles’ holdings, which also include The Revelry, Branca Midtown, Char Steak & Lounge and Hattie’s Restaurant — all of which boast packed outdoor areas all season long.
“Our dining room on certain nights can be empty while we have 30 people looking to sit outside, so I think it’s very important to the business for those warmer months,” Miles says.
While their placement in the Strathallan would suggest a high patronage of out-of-towners, Hattie’s, with its adjacent roof deck overlooking downtown, and Char, with its large open patio area, are actually more favored among locals, Miles says.
“Locals love it. To be outside, with the gorgeous view and the good cocktails, this is where they like to come,” Miles says.
He credits this to their outdoor areas. If there’s good weather and people want to enjoy the open air with their meals or cocktails, “it makes or breaks the night” financially, he says.
While the historic relevance of the Genesee Brew House has always been its biggest draw, incorporating more outdoor seating areas in recent years has not only added more space for its bar and restaurant patrons, but spurred a noticeable rise in high-profile visitors and events, says general manager Malcolm Franklin. Franklin considers its outdoor beer garden, patio and roof deck necessities that add “tremendous value” to the business.
“We tell people if you come right at 11 a.m. that’s your best chance to get a table outside, and by 11:30 a.m. every day it’s full and stays full for the whole evening,” Franklin says. “I never see an empty table, so that value is just irreplaceable.”
After tearing down two old brewery buildings a few years ago that partially obstructed the view from the brew house over High Falls, Genesee was able to capitalize on an iconic Rochester backdrop for its outdoor seating.
“It was almost like a hidden gem in Rochester. Once we opened up it was one of the most photographed spots in Rochester. It was one of the most posted pictures on Facebook and Instagram. Having this as a backdrop to when you’re eating or just visiting the brewhouse really makes the whole experience,” Franklin says.
However, providing al fresco areas is not without its drawbacks. Inclement weather, bugs and especially wind can hinder whatever plans were in place for those areas, to say nothing of a long stretch of the year when these amenities are completely unusable.
“Mother Nature can be our closest ally, or our enemy,” Clark says.
In most cases, that means always needing a backup space available for booked events. And finding the right way to mitigate wind without obstructing the view is a delicate balance.
“We’ve learned a few lessons with different types of walls we’ve put up because we don’t want to impede the view but at the same time those few weeks at the beginning and end of summer we really need to control the wind,” Franklin said. “We’ve just adapted to it.”
Still, taking those steps to mitigate the elements keeps the outdoor spots a worthwhile investment. And incorporating things like outdoor heaters and controlled fire pits can extend the seasonal window for these areas.
“Just having something like the fire pit we have out there (at Hattie’s) can increase the season pretty significantly,” Miles says.
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