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While restrictions on indoor dining have returned to normal after the pandemic, restaurant customers have acquired a taste for outdoor dining. Keeping patios comfortable in outdoor settings can be a challenge in the colder months. Finding the right heating solution 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.

Common Patio Heaters and Layouts

Each type of outdoor patio heater has its own ideal use cases. While standing heaters are ideal for outdoor venues, tented spaces, and patios with ample walking space, tabletop heaters create a more romantic ambiance for more intimate patio spaces. Smaller, enclosed patios or terraces will likely find that wall-mounted heaters suit their space best. Whereas, more spacious outdoor dining and lounge spaces may opt for alternative heating solutions such as dining igloos or a more communal fireplace. Regardless of your patio layout, there are a variety of heating options to keep your guests comfortable.

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.

Standing Heaters for Outdoor Venues

Standing heaters, easily recognizable and often portable with wheels, are versatile additions to small-to-midsize outdoor areas. These heaters are particularly favored by owners for outdoor venues and temporary structures such as tents. They offer the convenience of being connectable to natural gas lines or powered by propane tanks, ensuring effortless operation. 

Unlike tabletop heaters, standing variants boast superior power, capable of warming large areas with a significant radius. Ranging from 6.5 to 8 feet in height, these heaters come in various styles which can heat up to 700 square feet.

Standing heaters are ideal for midsize outdoor venues.

Pros of standing heaters

  • Available in a variety of price ranges for different budgets
  • A variety of aesthetic styles to choose from
  • Options between direct heating and omnidirectional heating
  • Ideal in high-traffic areas where guests can walk around

Cons of standing heaters

  • Aesthetically-pleasing models are often more expensive
  • Top-heavy models pose a tipping risk
  • Can be a fire hazard if placed too close to tent canvases or tablecloths.
Tabletop heaters are ideal for small, intimate patios.

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 often use individual propane tanks.

While tabletop heaters add an intimate touch to the dining experience, they do have their limitations. They take up a lot of space on the dining table, leaving less room for the dining experience. Larger outdoor spaces will need quite a few tabletop heaters, resulting in more equipment to fuel and maintain. Regardless, these compact heaters are a convenient way to heat individual tables while providing a cozy ambiance.

Pros of tabletop heaters

  • Small footprint is less obstructive to guests
  • Highly portable
  • Inexpensive, so long as you don’t have to buy many

Cons of tabletop heaters

  • Heats a more limited area around it
  • Must be placed on a table or platform
  • Refueling multiple tabletop heaters takes more time than 1-2 larger models
  • Electric heaters with cords can pose a tripping hazard

Wall-Mounted Heaters

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 typically 2-3 feet long and can heat up an area of around 50-350 square feet, depending on the model and wattage.

Wall-mounted heaters can be easily installed with a mounting bracket, but make sure it is compatible with your walls or structure. Drywall, sheetrock, and plywood are usable surfaces, but if the outside venue’s nearest wall is made of brick or concrete, you may need to find another heating solution.

Wall-Mounted Heaters are ideal for enclosed patios and terraces.

Pros of wall-mounted heaters

  • Can be hidden on walls and ceilings
  • Frees up floor space for tables and guests
  • More energy-efficient than standing heaters
  • Can be installed in many freestanding outdoor enclosures
  • Doesn’t require refueling – almost all of them are electric

Cons of wall-mounted heaters

  • Can be more expensive than standing heaters
  • Not a portable heating option
  • May be complicated to install, especially if walls nearby aren’t suitable
  • Difficult to remove, making them impractical for temporary venues like outdoor weddings

Alternative Patio Heating Methods

Unique outdoor dining spaces require creative solutions to create a cozy outdoor dining experience. The patio heating solutions below can be used independently or in combination with the traditional patio heaters we’ve already discussed. Either way, these options create unique dining experiences.

Outdoor fireplaces are ideal for larger, communal patios.

Outdoor Fireplaces

Outdoor fireplaces create an intimate ambiance while encouraging communal dining and socializing. These are great options for larger outdoor patios and event spaces where guests are encouraged to mingle. Outdoor fireplaces provide an upscale lounge ambiance. They come in a variety of styles, shapes and aesthetics with many options for customization. 

On average, commercial outdoor fireplaces range from $1,000-5,000 but can become more expensive with customization. Choose between gas, propane, electric-powered, or wood-burning for your preferred fuel source. Commercial fireplaces typically have a heating radius of 10 feet.

Pros of commercial outdoor fireplaces

  • A variety of sizes, shapes, and aesthetics to choose from
  • Can be customized to fit unique spaces
  • Creates a rustic and communal atmosphere

Cons of commercial outdoor fireplaces

  • One of the more expensive heating options
  • Not a portable heating option
  • Not ideal for covered patio spaces

Privatized Dining Pods and Igloos

One of the most unique dining solutions to come out of the pandemic were privatized dining pods and dining igloos. Ideal for larger outdoor patio spaces and areas with colder winter temperatures, dining igloos are a creative winter dining option. Dining pods and igloos can typically accommodate 2-8 guests comfortably. 

This is a more luxurious option that comes with a higher price tag. On average, dining igloos and pods range from $500-2,000 depending on size and additional features. Features like insulation, lighting, and supplemental heating elements can affect price.

Private Dining Pods are ideal for large patios and flexible spaces.

Pros of private dining pods and igloos

  • Luxurious, privatized dining experience
  • Come in a variety of sizes with customizable features
  • Ideal for large outdoor dining areas
  • Creates a comfortable ambiance in colder climates

Cons of private dining pods and igloos

  • One of the most expensive outdoor heating options
  • Requires a much larger space than other patio options
  • Limited air flow requires more sanitization during cold and flu season
  • Might require a city permit to install

Things to Consider When Choosing Winter Patio Heaters

What are the most important things a business owner should consider when looking at outdoor heaters? Each outdoor dining or event space comes with unique challenges. When choosing your preferred commercial patio heating solution, consider the following questions:

  • What kind of weather conditions do you intend to use the heater in?
  • How much space does your current patio layout have to accommodate heaters?
  • Do you want one large patio heater or individual tabletop heaters?
  • What commercial patio heater matches the aesthetics and design of your restaurant?
  • How efficient and effective will the patio heater be within your space?
  • What is your preferred fuel source? Do you need to install gas lines or power outlets?
  • How do you want to control the heaters? Do you want guests to have control of them?
  • What patio heaters are legal for your business?
  • Will I need to get a city permit to install my patio heater?

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.

Is there enough space?

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 a central heat source, it can 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 larger patios.
  • 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 or trip on an electrical cord. This could lead to guests injuring themselves, or causing a fire hazard.
  • Insufficient power outlets: Hanging heaters might seem ideal, however if your outdoor space lacks adequate electrical outlets, it might not be an effective solution.

Finding a Reliable Energy Plan to Power Your Heaters

Whether they’re powered by electricity or natural gas, there’s no getting around it: 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. At Integrity Energy, we specialize in helping business owners find the best fixed-rate plans to keep their energy costs predictable for the long run. We’re able to leverage our partnership with more than 30 trusted energy suppliers to provide the most cost-effective energy plans on the market. Over the last decade, we’ve helped over 40,000 business owners across the nation save more on energy bills and stay price-protected for the long run. Find the best energy rates for your business by  requesting a free quote today.