As the weather warms around the country, hordes of diners spill out onto restaurant patios, decks, and courtyards to sip craft cocktails and revel in summery flavors. Outdoor dining space makes for a compelling front door for guests, bringing a bold energy and flurry of activity at first glance. But more goes into designing a great al fresco space than simply shuffling tables outside. While patios are a great added revenue generator in the summer months, they also change operations. At Shea, we translate design trends and elements to create outdoor experiences worthy of any occasion, partnering with operators to keep the quality of the experience high even with added seats and special patio menus.
A great patio space is key to a restaurant’s summer business plan in the Midwest. Though the al fresco dining season may be significantly shorter than in warmer climes, it booms during the few months that the weather allows. As Mercy owner Mike Rakun puts it, “When the weather is nice in Minnesota, it is really nice—and nobody wants to be inside.”
At recently designed Mercy in Minneapolis, creating a great patio space was top priority for Rakun and the Shea team, especially given the restaurant’s prime downtown location, where happy-hour and dinner spots are in stiff competition. “I think when it’s nice out, people base where they’re going to go on whether they can eat outside,” says Rakun. It was our priority to make an outdoor space that would embody the same sleek, modern warmth that makes Mercy so popular year-round.
Mercy’s patio, featuring ivy climbing up the side of the attached Le Meridien Chambers Hotel and onto the outdoor bar’s pergola, is truly unique on the downtown scene. The space has a courtyard feel to it, with an element of privacy that sidewalk patios can’t offer. At the same time, it invites diners with the space with its transparency to the street. “We want to embrace that we’re a part of downtown Minneapolis,” explains Rakun. “And we wanted to make the patio area really welcoming for the public—it’s not only for hotel guests.”
A patterned wrought-iron gate does the trick, setting the al fresco space back from the sidewalk without curtaining it off, and allowing a symbiotic energy transfer between the sidewalk and Mercy’s courtyard. As Rakun’s business shifts from the restaurant’s interior to the outdoors, guests have plenty of seating options to choose from depending on group size and what the evening has in store. Loungey seats in cabanas offer extra privacy and separation, especially with the addition of landscaped dividers, or guests can sip cocktails at the full outdoor bar. Umbrella-covered tables shade diners from the sun throughout the day and can be more exposed come evening, and guests always have the option of kicking back at the open firepit as the evening goes on—enjoying the star-filled summer skies while they last.
Nestled right next to Lake Minnetonka in downtown Wayzata, the scenery at Bellecour is nothing short of spectacular—but famed chef Gavin Kaysen’s French restaurant eschews the traditional lakeside deck in favor of a garden patio, one that embodies the notion of a hidden gem in the heart of a bustling downtown. Shea worked with the chef to design a space that would be unexpected but still in keeping with the restaurant’s overall vibe, bordered by the kitchen and garden room. The goal was to relate each of these spaces to the others, creating a superior indoor/outdoor experience for guests that would flow and bring a symbiotic energy to each area.
The patio is tucked away from the street, with a courtyard feel, past the main dining room. Simple ash wood-plank tables and wicker dining chairs in a deep, rich gray tone echo the neutral palette of the restaurant’s interior, while twinkling café bulbs light the space when skies turn dark. The showstopping feature, however, is the living wall stationed along the side of the restaurant.
Just as pops of blue add punch and a little French flair to Bellecour’s interior, self-irrigated garden installations featuring bold blooms and cascading Spanish moss bring life to the patio. They ensconce diners, truly transporting them to a French courtyard. The space is a very special hidden gem that embodies the hospitality Gavin and his team are known for—it’s the chicest, most French backyard around, serene but still encompassing the great energy emanating from the restaurant.