While restrictions on indoor capacity have relaxed since the pandemic, restaurant customers have acquired a taste for outdoor dining. Keeping them comfortable in outdoor settings can be a challenge in the fall and winter months. The right heating solution for the right venue can make all the difference and keep your guests coming back over and over again.
But what’s the best outdoor heater for a restaurant patio? That depends on your business’s needs. Here are a few important things to consider when picking patio heaters for your restaurant.
Types of Heaters for Outdoor Patios
Finding the right heat lamp can be tricky. Each comes with its own pros and cons. When picking one out, take into account the energy source the heater requires, the space you will need to set it up for best performance and safety, and the overall aesthetics of your outdoor serving area.
To get a deeper look, we asked Bromic, a premium outdoor heater manufacturer for advice for commercial customers interested in heating up their outdoor spaces.
Let’s get into the types of patio heaters available.
Standing Heaters for Outdoor Venues
Easily identifiable, and portable if it has wheels, free-standing heaters are ideal for small-to-midsize environments like patios for hotels and restaurants, club or group events, pool decks and seating areas. They can be hooked up to a natural gas line or fueled with propane tanks, so keeping them going couldn’t be easier.
Standing patio heaters are one of the more popular choices for outdoor venues, especially in temporary structures like tents. They are often more powerful than their tabletop counterparts, and many can heat a large radius.
They also come in many different forms and styles, from no-nonsense cylinders to more eye-catching shapes. Some of them even look like fire pits or other types of decor.
The sizes of standing heaters can vary, but a typical “mushroom” style heater will stand around 6.5-8 feet in height. Omnidirectional standing heaters project radiant heat in all directions in a space of 200-700 square feet, depending on the model.
Pricing for standing heaters
Standing heaters can come in a wide variety of prices depending on size, shape and power, from as little as $120 to as much as $900 or more. The standard “mushroom” style heater can typically be found for about $160. Quartz heaters, the pyramid-shaped ones, will usually go for a little more, around $200-$300. Fire pit standing heaters can go from $400-$1000 depending on the quality of the product.
Pros of standing heaters
- Available in a variety of price ranges for different budgets
- Can come in a variety of aesthetic forms like fire pits
- Options to choose from – direct heaters target a specific area, while omnidirectional heaters emanate heat in the area surrounding them
- Reliable for high-traffic areas where guests can walk around
Cons of standing heaters
- Aesthetically-pleasing options often cost extra
- Can be easy to tip over (though some have anti-tipping features)
- Comes in many different forms, so finding the right one may take time
- Can be a fire hazard if placed too near a tent canvas or tablecloth
Best usage for a standing heater
“It’s all about design,” says Bromic. “Design the space to minimize wind using covers and side walls to block wind flow, and have heaters that heat specific areas, and are controlled on a needs basis like having the outdoor space split into controlled sections.”
“Also ensure the most efficient type of heaters are selected; e.g. a non-direct and non-directional mushroom heater is considerably less efficient than a direct infrared heater. You have to use way more mushroom heaters, thereby using more gas.” Bromic provided a graph to best explain this:
Restaurant Tabletop Heaters
As the name implies, tabletop heaters are small enough to fit on a table. They’re typically around 1-3 feet in height, and can heat up an area of 20-50 square feet. Small tabletop heaters usually run on electricity, while larger ones tend to use individual propane tanks.
While tabletop heaters add an intimate touch to the dining experience, they do have their downsides. They take up a lot of space on the dining table, leaving less room for guests and dividing them – especially if your tables are already small. Large restaurants tend to need a lot of them, and the more you have, the more you’ll need to keep track of, fuel, and maintain.
Still, these handy little devices can be a convenient way to give each table an equal amount of heat without forcing guests to crowd around major heat sources.
Pricing for tabletop heaters
An individual tabletop heater can run for as little as $30 to as much as $200, depending on size and fuel source. (Electric patio heaters are typically less expensive.) While they’re noticeably cheaper than their free-standing counterparts, that does come with a catch: You often need more than one in a commercial setting. Be sure when comparing costs to take into account how many tabletop heaters you may need.
Pros of tabletop heaters
- Small footprint, making it unobtrusive to guests
- Highly portable
- Inexpensive (as long as you don’t have to buy too many)
Cons of tabletop heaters
- Heats only a small area around it
- Must be placed on tables or other platforms, as it can easily be kicked if on the ground
- It takes more time to recharge or refuel many small battery-powered or propane heaters than each one or two larger heaters
- Electric heaters that aren’t battery-powered have cords that can be a tripping hazard
- Can be damaged if customers spill food or drinks on it
Best usage for tabletop restaurant heaters
Tabletop heaters are perfect for intimate settings with space for heaters on tables, especially if tables are in booths or enclaves that can help trap heat. Provided recharging and refueling the individual heaters isn’t an issue (many run on electricity and can be charged ahead of time), they are an excellent source of warmth for small gatherings and restaurant-goers.
Wall-mounted infrared patio heaters can function either indoors or outdoors. They can heat your patio without taking up valuable ground and table space. They are around 2-3 feet long and can heat up an area of around 50-350 square feet, depending on the model and wattage.
They can be easily installed with a mounting bracket, but make sure before you purchase one that the wall you have will work. Drywall, sheetrock, and plywood are stable, usable surfaces, but if your outside venue’s nearest wall is made of brick or concrete, you may need to find another heating solution.
Pricing for wall-mounted heaters
Wall-mounted heaters can go for as little as $100 to over $700, depending on the model and wattage. Most versions typically fall between $150 and $300.
- Can be hidden on the walls and ceilings
- Frees up floor space for tables and guests
- Often uses energy more efficiently than standing heaters
- Can be installed in many freestanding outdoor enclosures
- Don’t require refueling – almost all of them are electric
- Sometimes more expensive than standing heaters
- Not very portable
- May be complicated to install, especially if walls nearby aren’t suitable
- Difficult to take down, making them impractical for temporary venues like outdoor weddings
Best usage for wall-mounted heaters
Wall-mounted heaters are an excellent option for spaces that are low on floor space but have open wall and overhead space. They typically run on electricity (though some are propane or natural gas heaters), making them a suitable choice if you don’t have access to a natural gas line and don’t want to be swapping out propane tanks for your outdoor heaters.
Things to Consider When Choosing Winter Patio Heaters
What are the most important things a business owner should consider when looking at outdoor heaters? It depends on a combination of factors including but not limited to:
- The kind of weather conditions you intend to use the heater in.
- The layout and construction of the space – not all heaters are practical for all spaces.
- Aesthetics and design – does the heater match your restaurant’s look?
- How efficient and effective is it? There are a myriad of options out there, but direct infrared heaters are usually best.
- How do you want to control the heaters? Do you want guests to have control of them?
It’s also to consider local laws, how much space is available, what kind of energy source you will need (energy vs. electric gas heaters), and more.
What energy source will you be using?
Depending on your setting, you may only have one or two options to choose from between electricity, natural gas and propane. Consider talking with an outdoor heating specialist who is indifferent as to whether you choose gas or electric, fixed mount or portable options to get an unbiased opinion about what’s best for the space.
If you have the freedom of choice, consider running costs of electric vs natural gas vs propane gas. If gas lines exist but you prefer electricity, consider what the cost of running power to the outdoor area might be.
What patio heaters are legal for your business?
Before finding that perfect heating solution for your outdoor venue, make sure it’s legal for you to use. Some areas have local laws restricting or prohibiting what kind of outdoor heat lamps can be used for safety or environmental reasons.
“What are the mounting options available,” Bromic asks, “and do these meet minimum safety clearance requirements of the various heating options available?” If no wall or ceiling mounting options are available, a portable solution may be required. Bromic stressed that safety concerns should be considered for “both that of patrons, as well as materials of other lights, fans, audio, canvas, etc., that get installed near the heaters.”
Is there enough space?
Bigger isn’t always better. Focus on heating the spaces that guests will use.
Though it could be tempting to decorate your patio or outdoor space with a large heat lamp centerpiece, this can have downsides.
- Poor heat dispersal: If guests are crowding around the main heat source (and in winter, they will be) they’ll prevent warm air from filling the rest of the patio. All that heat will instead go straight into the lining of their jackets. Multiple smaller heat lamps, whether hanging, freestanding or tabletop, will more evenly distribute heat around the patio.
- Possible danger: One of the joys of outdoor dining is the freedom guests feel to move about the space. But as they move around, they could easily bump into a heater, especially on a busy night. This could lead to guests injuring themselves, or even tipping the heater over.
How much energy will be available?
Another consideration to make is how much energy your patio will have available. Hanging heaters might seem like a perfect option, but if your outdoor space is lacking in electrical outlets with enough output, they may be unhelpful.
How important is portability?
A natural gas or electric heater will provide a steady stream of heat with no worries about buying and changing out propane tanks. The trade-off, of course, is that they can’t be moved as easily, and power cords and gas hoses pose tripping hazards.
If you need to move things around a lot, an outdoor portable heater fueled on propane may be preferable. On the other hand, if your outdoor space will remain mostly consistent, a heat lamp connected to a power outlet or natural gas line may make more sense.
Finding a Reliable Energy Plan to Power Your Heaters
Whether they’re powered by electricity or natural gas, there’s no getting around it: Heat lamps are energy hogs. It takes a lot of energy to keep an outdoor environment warm and your guests comfortable .
Business energy costs can add up fast, which makes energy efficiency in restaurants crucial. The most successful restaurant owners know they can’t sleep on trimming their energy bills. Thankfully, neither does Integrity Energy.
At Integrity Energy, we specialize in helping small-to-medium size business owners find the best fixed-rate plans to keep their energy costs flat and manageable for the long run. We offer rates from over 30 major suppliers, giving you a wide variety of plans to choose from. We pride ourselves on providing next-level service and guidance to our customers to help them make the best energy choices for their needs. Over the last decade, we’ve helped over 40,000 business owners across the contiguous U.S. save more on energy bills and stay price-protected for the long run.
Find the best energy rates for your business today – request a quote online now.