2009 June: Bing in the Green

2009 June: Bing in the GreenIf you’ve overlooked your restaurant’s outdoor decorating, now’s a great time to dig into exterior design. Experts say landscaping around your pizzeria isn’t a frivolous expense: paying attention to your green spaces outside will help you attract more customers, which translates into more greenbacks for your cash register inside.

You wouldn’t settle for a restaurant with boring white walls and no interesting interior details, yet many eatery owners disregard landscaping as an unnecessary expense. “Landscape design is really no different than interior design; they merely work with different media,” explains veteran landscape designer Renee French, owner of Land Spectrum, a commercial and residential landscape design firm in Irvine, California. “With landscaping, the designer is working with plants and flowers instead of paint and wallpaper.” She says you should have a color scheme that echoes through not only flower color, but plant and leaf colors, as well.

Some pizza restaurants are so ingrained in a city’s local lore that they could basically operate out of a hole in the wall and they’d still have great business. But for most places, looks really do matter when it comes to attracting customers. “The way you design your landscaping definitely projects an image to potential customers,” says Jerri Pick, a senior associate at Land Arc West, a L.A. metro area landscape design fi rm. “A great landscape can take a restaurant that sort of melted into the background and really help it get noticed from the street, which means more customers stopping in to give it a try and see what this place is all about.”

If you have a limited budget and have to focus on one small area of your business to spruce up with landscaping, choose the front entrance. “It’s so important the entrance to the building sets the stage for what’s to come once the customer is inside,” French says. “Nice pottery planted with attractive accent plants can direct patrons to the front door and make a wonderful welcoming statement.”

The architecture of your restaurant is often a determining factor in landscaping choices. For eateries located in strip malls or other attached buildings, designing green spaces may be more of a challenge, but in these cases, it’s just as — if not more — important to set your space apart from the rest of the look-alike crowd. “A professional landscaping company will have designers on staff who have the expertise to create an attractive yet practical design based upon the physical requirements of the site as well as the client’s needs and wishes,” French explains.

If you want to landscape your restaurant but can’t swallow the price for a professional design and installation, you can try to do it yourself. Just remember that you’re not saving any money if you’re losing time taking care of business matters or you choose plants that won’t look good or thrive in your local climate.

“A professional landscape company can offer a well-thought-out design with the right combination of plant material, lawn areas and hardscapes,” says Darren Schelsky, co-owner of SLI Schelsky’s Landscape and Irrigation Inc. in Eugene, Oregon. Schelsky says while it may mean more up-front cost, hiring a skilled landscaping firm may save you money in the end. “A well-trained crew and modern equipment help ensure the landscaper can install the job efficiently and properly the first time. They will also usually offer a warranty on the material and labor, as well.”

Landscape design isn’t just about planting the right shrubs and flowers, though. It also includes details that compliment and enhance the green space, like seating design, walkways or water features. “We’re seeing an increasing trend in incorporating colorful outdoor furniture, trellis structures, and seasonal plantings in business landscape design,” says Mike Albert, a LEED accredited professional at Design Workshop, Inc., an Aspen, Colorado-based landscape architecture and planning fi rm. Albert says other trends he sees are water features like fountains, which will not only give that “Italian city” feeling to your outdoor space, but can also provide a “white noise” filter that can downplay negatives of outdoor areas like traffic or city noise.

Pick says when you’re choosing planters, consider going for that Italian feel with details like whitewashed terra-cotta planters, and maybe even adding some cascading rosemary to them to boost the sensory stimulation.

And if you have practical needs like fencing in and decorating an outdoor eating area, try to carry through with your restaurant’s overall feel. “You see so many dining patios miss out on landscaping opportunities they could have capitalized on to create a dining area with a real ‘wow’ factor,” says David Dubois, president and CEO of L.A.-based Mission Landscape. “You want people to see your restaurant and think, ‘I want to know what’s going on in there.’ You want it to be eye-catching and inviting.”

Once you’ve had your restaurant’s outdoor look designed and installed, don’t forget to include excellent maintenance into your upkeep budget. Even if you’ve designed a low-maintenance look, that doesn’t mean you can plant it and forget it.

“Low-maintenance doesn’t mean ‘no maintenance,’ ” French says. “All plants require some form of maintenance throughout the year.” Using an outside maintenance company or contracting with the fi rm that installed your landscape may be an added expense, but if you’re dedicated to improving the look and feel of your restaurant with vibrant exterior areas, it’s a good investment. “It’s well worth the money to not lose plant material to improper care,” French says. “In other words, let the restaurant owner focus on what he does best and let the landscape company do what they do best.” ?

Outside In: Great interior plantscaping

You may want to keep your restaurant’s temperature cool during the summer months, but French says warming up your interior design with plants and other earthy details is a good move any time of year.

“Interior plants add a warm, earthy feel to any environment, and they have the added benefit of improving your interior air quality,” she says. But make sure you don’t go Tuscan Villa on the outside and English Garden on the inside. Coordinate your interior and exterior organic designs so the spaces flow seamlessly together despite their physical separation.

One way to do this is ask your exterior landscape designer if anyone at the same fi rm specializes in interior plant services. Even if they don’t, they might be able to refer you to someone who can help you choose the right indoor plants to create the ambiance and decor you’re looking for.

Alyson McNutt English is an award-winning freelance writer specializing in home, health, family and green topics. She lives in Huntsville, Alabama.

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