Houston Business Journal : Better patios and new technology on the way for restaurants, Michael Hsu says

In the wake of Covid-19, expect restaurants to feature bigger, better, more lavish patios that provide the same quality experience as indoor dining, said Michael Hsu.

The Austin-based architect, whose Michael Hsu Office of Architecture has a Houston office and many noteworthy Houston clients, said that new and existing restaurants are investing in their patios more than ever before. Unlike indoor dining, patios currently are not restricted by a Covid-related capacity cap, so restaurants are beginning to turn to their patios to seat more guests, even taking advantage of a new ordinance to extend into their parking lots.

“We have other (clients) that are very much changing how they do business. So much of it has to do with the comfort level of their patrons,” Hsu said. “There’s a diversity of risk tolerance for people. Also, the comfort range of their staff. The better operators, the ones that are experience-driven, really rely on their staff to be that connection to their clients. If their staff doesn’t feel good about being there, if they don’t feel safe, then they’re not going to perform well or want to be there.”

For their newer patios, restaurants are including weather protection, heating and cooling elements, and nicer furniture with nicer materials than standard patios of the past. It all comes down to creating a better experience for the customer, Hsu said.

The incorporation of green space and nature is more important than ever, Hsu added. What was once a popular trend in office and multifamily has now spread to hospitality, including rooftop gardens and other nature elements.

Hsu is seeing changes inside as well. More restaurants are closing off their spaces, creating separated rooms instead of one large space. As restaurants seek to minimize contact, they’re using radio-frequency identification, or RFID, buzzers when running food to tables.

Pickup and delivery, already now more widespread than ever before, will also change. Hsu is seeing heated pickup lockers, newer types of shelving and new apps to help smooth the transition to pickup and delivery. For higher-end restaurants, Hsu suggests adding traditional tableside elements like candles, fragrances and flowers in their to-go packages, bringing the traditional white tablecloth aesthetic home.

“I just think that the experience that you expect in a restaurant, how do we translate that to something that goes with you? Then (if you) make the packaging, the unwrapping, just like a gift, (it) is more special so that there’s joy in the entire process,” Hsu said.

Originally published on Houston Business Journal