A Guide to Different Types of Restaurant Patio Enclosures

When it comes to restaurant patio enclosures, we are really quite spoiled for choice. If you’re in the market for a new restaurant patio enclosure at your place of business, you will find yourself faced by a bewildering range of materials, sizes, and shapes for your new structure. To add to the complexity, you can also choose between fixed and retractable enclosures, throwing even more considerations around cost and function into the mix.

OpenAire has specialized in the design and construction of restaurant patio enclosures for over 30 years. We have built almost every kind you can think of – and for an astonishing variety of clients. We have often found that, when our clients first approach us with a new commission, they are uncertain of what to make of the multiple and various available choices. While we tackle each project on its own details and merits, it’s useful to provide an overall and general guide that clients and prospective customers can read through as they think about their options. With this in mind, we decided to compile this guide to the different types of commercial patio enclosures.

gibsons Restaurant patio enclosures

Types of Restaurant Patio Enclosures

Let’s begin with the kinds of materials that restaurant patio enclosures can be built from. When businesses, such as restaurants, decide to install patio enclosures, they usually face two choices:

  1. A large, fixed structure built over the patio, or
  2. A more lightweight, retractable enclosure that keeps the space open most of the time, but that can be closed when the weather demands it.

Restaurants who opt for the more lightweight and retractable option, often go with a roll-up vinyl seasonal shade cover. This consists of a standard overhanging roof from which vinyl screens are suspended that can be opened and closed using a simple rope and pulley mechanism. This is the simpler and more lightweight / temporary option.

Some restaurants want something more permanent, however, a more substantial addition that acts as an extension of the interior space of the restaurant and is useable year round. These additions can either include a fixed roof or can also have retractable elements (roofs and walls) to enable a more al fresco experience when needed.

The best types of permanent enclosures are those constructed from thermally broken aluminum frameworks. This means the space can be heated or cooled like a regular building. And open or closed for natural ventilation. Materials such as steel are also often used for structural framing. However, steel tends to require more maintenance than aluminum (ie painting), and is also much heavier which can cause issues if for example you are adding a rooftop enclosure to a building or your building is a heritage structure and can’t support the weight.

Wood is also a popular choice for certain applications and can include a retractable roof overlay. While wood structures can be beautiful and provide a distinctive, warm, and inviting look and feel, wooden enclosures can also require a great deal of care as well as maintenance, as they will discolour and fade from sun exposure.

OpenAire’s aluminum enclosures are engineered to withstand extreme weather conditions, such as:

  • Snow,
  • High winds,
  • Humidity, and
  • Even earthquakes.

OpenAire has found that aluminum is by far the best option, as it is both strong and light, and it offers the best resistance against the elements. Our frames also come with a baked-on finish that not only never needs repainting but that also withstands corrosion.

The skylights in these enclosures can be made of a variety of materials. Glass is the simplest and best known. It comes in a range of types from tinted to high performance and low E glass. High-performance glass is a broad term applied to variants of the material with one or more enhancements, from energy efficiency to security glazing or impact resistance. Low E glass is treated to restrict the amount of ultra-violet or infra-red light that comes through to the enclosed area.

Another glazing option is polycarbonate, a virtually unbreakable material that resists yellowing and stays clear for longer than ordinary glass. Polycarbonate panels are also heat-resistant and UV stabilized as well as they are extremely lightweight and much lower cost than the other products mentioned here.

Alternatively, you might go for ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) a high-strength, lightweight material that is inflated to achieve thermal properties. It’s pillow like appearance is appealing to some clients. It can be fit into a retractable roof system.

Photovoltaic glazing is another option that provides both thermal protection and sound insulation while letting natural light through. It filters out harmful radiation and can be used to help produce clean, free energy through solar power.

Insulated metal panels can also be used on the roof of an enclosure for areas that require an opaque ceiling. As mentioned before, many businesses (especially restaurants and pubs) want easy and flexible protection against the sun and wind, as well as the additional ability to open up and create an outdoor space easily and quickly. These types of clients usually tend to opt for rope-and-pulley vinyl enclosures because they are relatively economical and are great for simpler patio designs. However they are purely seasonal.

Some restaurants, however, do want to make a more substantial investment in the design of their restaurant patio enclosures. They want permanent structures that are not merely accessories but, rather, integrated parts of the overall structure of their businesses. These types of businesses opt for fixed aluminum structures that are customized to their space, and that can be designed in different shapes and sizes depending on the area available and the aesthetic and functional needs of the client. These aluminum structures can be either fixed or retractable depending on what the business’s needs dictate.

Retractable Patio Enclosures

No wonder why retractable roof systems are very popular among restaurant owners, as they allow for different hospitality environments no matter the weather conditions. They can open the roof on bright summer days or warm, dry evenings, or they can close the roof for uninterrupted service during bad weather. Retractable roofs can be custom-designed to any number of different shapes and sizes and, therefore, offer great energy and operational savings.

OpenAire’s retractable roofs have lower life-cycle costs, less environmental impact, and better health and satisfaction levels than traditional buildings. They can be incorporated into a new building’s design or retrofitted to an existing structure.  Protection from the sun’s rays is an important factor in restaurant patio enclosures. Today’s glazing options offer a number of benefits in this regard. As mentioned above, polycarbonate, ETFE, and photovoltaic glass are excellent options for UV protection, though the latter offers the highest level of cover and cost.

Photovoltaic glass is actually designed to be used for the conversion of light into electricity. It captures sunlight and incorporates semiconductors to generate electricity, offering additional energy savings. This is likely not be an option that most restaurants need. But, keep in mind, it could lead to savings further down the line. Photovoltaic glass is not completely transparent. This would need to be taken into account, depending on the level of visibility you would want for your patio space.

ETFE and polycarbonate can be transparent or translucent and, while not offering the energy generation provided by photovoltaic panels, they do provide considerable UV protection.  Not all restaurant patio enclosures are built in line with energy efficiency standards or environmental considerations. OpenAire prides itself on this score, however, as our enclosures and retractable roofs can be LEED-certified.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a green building rating system developed by the US Green Building Council. It aims to help the owners of buildings, operators as well as builders to be environmentally responsible by making the best use of the available resources. If you are aiming to achieve this accreditation Openaire can help.

OpenAire crafts beautiful restaurant patio enclosures that help turn restaurant a into creative spaces for entertainment and hospitality. Using a variety of materials, with fixed or retractable roofs, we build beautiful, high-quality enclosures, custom-made to the needs of each client.

OpenAire Built Restaurant Patio Enclosures

Among the restaurants we have built commercial patio enclosures for are the following:

OpenAire offers 30 years of industry experience, in-house design, and engineering, a dedicated senior project manager for each project, unparalleled long term customer support, a dedicated and professional installation crew, as well as hundreds of glowing testimonials. Contact us for more information regarding the restaurant patio you’ve been planning.