A Restaurant Patio for Fido

Dogs have a pretty good gig in the U.S. Over 65 million people have befriended every breed from labradoodle to pug. Many paw-rents want to bring their pooch wherever they go. Is your restaurant ready to welcome the four leggers in the family?

Dog Rules and Regs

The first thing to consider is whether your state allows dogs at your restaurant. Right now, there are 20 states in the U.S. that support it. You can see whether your state is one of them with this interactive map

States that approve of having furry BFFs dine too usually have health and safety laws, plus additional guidelines. You may also need special licensing and want more insurance. 

In many states, you need to plan and implement a way for dogs to access the patio, offer clear signage for restaurant guests, document food safety to prevent cross-contamination, outline cleaning procedures for the area, and commit to cooking and cleaning materials that are safe for dogs.

For Everyone’s Comfort

Make sure furry friends can relieve themselves away from humans eating. This space needs to be large enough that a few dogs at a time could use it. Litter bags and clean up kits should be nearby. Have plenty of hand sanitizer around for guests to use. Consider hiring a dedicated employee to take care of removing dog waste and helping corral any dogs who misbehave. And every four-legged bestie should be on a leash. 

Menu du Dog

In addition to water bowls to keep dogs hydrated, they’ll probably want to eat as well. Who wants jealous canine eyes staring at you? Consider a simple, affordable dog menu with 3-4 choices on it. How about a mini-hamburger or pizza crust, chicken tenders or chicken and sweet potatoes? For dessert, dogs often enjoy offerings like peanut butter and banana popsicles or whipped cream.

The Nautti Dawg Marina Café has a “Yappi Hour” menu that includes mahi, scrambled eggs and chicken breast. 

Outdoor Patio Design

The entrance should be a direct patio access for furry ones so there’s no reason to go inside the restaurant. Like humans, dogs can be sensitive to temperature shifts. So cooling misters for summer and heaters for winter can be part of the plan. Some especially dog-friendly restaurants offer a fenced playground with toys and separate sections for large dogs and small dogs. 

You may want to dedicate a patio section to people-only dining and leave the other half for dogs and people. Our patio experts have 20+ years of experience helping countless restaurants create flexible enclosed patio options with panel walls that “disappear” with the push of a button. Let us know if we can help you attract dog owners with a design that bow wows.



This year-round club on 10,000 acres in northeastern Michigan is called a hidden gem. In every season, there’s more than enough to do with miles of two-track trails for ATVs, fishing and ice fishing, snowshoeing, hiking, hunting and cross-country skiing. An 18-hole golf course and five lakes round out the many outdoor offerings. Guests can stay in the simple lodge or at an 84-site campground. 

We recently helped make a large, free-standing pavilion beside the lake more friendly for outdoor picnics and events with our retractable roll-up vinyl panels. They can be rolled down when the weather gets feisty to keep the good times on track. With a large window space, the view stays expansive even in a downpour or on a sunny day that’s just too windy for comfort without the extra protection. This series of panels fits tightly together for maximum comfort and the high-quality windows will stay clear over time with routine maintenance.


Restaurants in the Age of Millennials

Every generation makes its mark on the world, including the restaurant world. Millennials, that often notorious and misunderstood group of folks born between 1981 and 1996 have taken it on the chin. Yet overall, they are globally and community-focused, digitally savvy, deeply curious, imaginative, and highly adaptive to change — all great qualities. What’s more, they’re now the largest age group in the U.S. So, what’s that doing to restaurants?

Millennial Vibes and Value

Liveaboutdotcom says, “Millennials are rapidly changing the way we dine. Their values of societal and environmental good, coupled with a thriftiness toward money are creating a new kind of restaurant experience that focuses on sustainability, local foods, healthy options, and bargain prices.”
Which means, they’re not eating out like their parents do.

It’s said that you can feel a Millennial-focused restaurant when you walk in. The script is flipped. Millennials have a new checklist for judging quality, one that centers on an exceptional experience. They’re not impressed by the fancy French creds of the chef. Philadelphia Magazine says, “The dining room at Royal Izakaya is nearly pitch-black, with 90’s Pokémon projected on the walls. That’s just the right vibe for high-end Japanese food, at least from a millennial’s perspective: stripped-down, nostalgia-laden elegance.”

Creating a Restaurant Millennials Like

If your menu calls out integrity like no GMOs, no trans fats, no corn syrup, or gluten-free ingredients, it’s a win. Sustainably raised foods get noticed. Less grease gets the nod too. They’re also adventurous eaters, willing to try a new ethnic dish without hesitation. Maybe that’s because they’ve seen food celebrated on social media and watched more food shows on cable TV than any other generation. They’ve been raised as foodies.

Juxtaposing the everyday with highbrow and nostalgic bites with international flavors is the secret recipe for many who see success with this age group. A fair number of successful ventures started out as pop-ups or food trucks. It’s a great way to test an edgier concept and fine-tune it.

Millennials as Restaurant Staff

To attract Millennial guests, it makes sense to represent them on your staff. You’ll want to give them input on decisions and create a spirit of collaboration. Many want to feel like they’re making a difference and have a pathway to bigger roles within an organization. So, changing things up and keeping the culture fun also makes a difference. Flexibility is a big deal because having a good work/life balance matters. “Millennials are about serving and helping one another for the greater good…And if you’re transparent about standards and expectations, they’ll hold themselves accountable,” according to QSR Magazine.

Design Counts

Some Millennial restaurants are building three-level concepts to create a part night club and part-restaurant vibe. They’re turning to high concept, Hollywood-style interior designers too. Restauranteurs who know how to create a feast for the eyes will do well.

Millennials also love outdoor seating. Think about how edgy a patio can be for these foodies. Is there a water feature to add? Neon lights? Upcycled furniture to incorporate? Or maybe you want to show off herbs grown for the kitchen on the patio. From fabric to color and patio screens, whatever customization is needed, you can get a one-of-a-kind-look. Whether it’s hiding an ugly view or shielding guests from a tough rain storm, great design inspires Millennials to hang out. After all, what’s more fun than eating outside? If you’d like to brainstorm, our design experts translate imagination into high-quality materials that hold up longer. So, play with it and take things in a new direction to welcome in the new majority.


Restaurants with Soulful Goodness

There’s nothing more natural than celebrating culture through food. Soul food is one of America’s most beloved cuisines and continues to evolve in delicious ways.

The Staples of Soul

Close your eyes and the first thing that comes to mind is crispy chicken or catfish fried to perfection. Tucked beside it, you may find collard greens that have been cooked low and slow with a hint of smoked ham hocks and vinegar. Or maybe some homemade mac and cheese oozing with flavor from shredded cheddar, mozzarella, and Colby. There’s cornbread on the table, likely cooked in a cast iron skillet and ready for you to drip butter on top. The ending to a meal like this is sweet with fresh peach cobbler topped by a biscuit or cinnamon crumbles, maybe with a scoop of vanilla ice cream saying hello to it all from above. Or was sweet potato pie the way you wanted to end this daydream?

Soul Food for Your Bucket List

The queen of soul food, Sylvia Woods, opened Sylvia’s in Harlem in 1962. She fueled the spark that made soul food mainstream. It’s so popular that presidents and celebrities have stopped there to enjoy its world-famous platters for lunch, dinner, and Gospel brunch with eggs, grits, and buttermilk biscuits.

Wille Mae’s Scotch House in New Orleans has been voted the best fried chicken in America by the Food Network. It has a storied history,  starting out as a beauty salon, barbershop, bar, and restaurant. Then Wille Mae’s expanded the restaurant as the hair business died down. People from all over the world visit the Lower Nineth Ward to eat there. 

When in the Mississippi Delta, you’ll want to visit Bully’s in Jackson which is known for some of the authentic soul food in the country. This humble little spot is the real deal and the place to get everything from fried green tomatoes to oxtail and pig’s feet, all of it served on red cafeteria trays with a big smile.

In Washington, D.C, the Florida Avenue Grill claims the title of “oldest Soul Food Restaurant in the world.” While there, you’ll want to go for the incredible pork chops, either lightly breaded or covered in their famous onion gravy. 

These are just a few of many names that started as neighborhood joints and became famous. There are so many incredible soul food restaurants, you could create a whole road trip around them.

Soul Food Evolution

Food gets influenced by creativity and local ingredients. That’s the beauty of it. 

If you go to Richmond, VA, Croaker’s Spot reigns as the “Soul of Seafood.” You can skip the extra dash of hot sauce here when you order its flavorful main event, the Fried Fish Boat. Thick strips of fried whiting come with a sassy tomato sauce, fried onions, and peppers.

Vegan soul food is also now trending as our modern world realizes that the greens, beans, rice, and sweet potatoes are incredibly healthy. Sweet Soulfood in New Orleans is a standout, offering up sweet hot fried cauliflower and Soul Veg City in Chicago gets raves for dedicating themselves to plant-based cooking decades ago. Order up a black-eyed pea burger.

Upscale soul food has also blossomed. In Dallas, Roots Southern table Top Chef alum Tiffany Derry whips up award-winning black eyed pea hummus, oxtail ragu and duck fat-fried plantains. What’s more, it’s done with heart. Tiffany and her partners are working to help the local community through mentoring, workshops, and economic innovation for those who need entrepreneurial support by developing Roots Chicken Shak. 

Joy for Belonging

Bringing people together is what restaurants do best. As we all work to build a connected community, we thank the restaurant leaders who use a language we all speak — food with love baked in!— to help us all do exactly that. 

If you need tips on getting a design going to expand your restaurant dreams and bring more people together, we’re happy to share our knowledge. Our expertise is patio enclosures for everyone from simple family establishments to upscale hotel projects.


Mellow Mushroom — Oxford Alabama

Not every restaurant entrance has a huge statue of a mascot named Mel standing watch over the parking lot. Yes, the fun of pizza is alive and well here. So is flavor. Locals become regulars after their first bite of Mellow Mushroom’s homemade crust made soft and crunchy in the stone-baked oven. Order a Merry Prankster with aioli, chicken, and veggies tucked under Wisconsin aged white cheddar and mozzarella cheeses. The Great White has four different white cheeses playing together on top. If you’re gluten-free, consider the Mighty Meaty with (count’em) five meats: bacon, ham, sausage, pepperoni, and ground beef. To spice things up even more, place your order on Bingo Night and Trivia Tuesdays.

Our recipe for keeping their patio enclosure easy and comfortable was motorized shades. One remote can raise and lower all the panels with the push of a button. An iPhone app also turns a phone into a control. The new automation can deploy the blinds based on weather or time of day, and their motorized shades are easy to keep looking great too. The curtain cleans itself each time it deploys and retracts thanks to brush strips along the edges of the hood. Clear vinyl polish and a micro-fiber mop clean up the rest. Next time you’re near I 20 in Oxford, stop by and mellow out on the patio with the perfect slice.



Restaurant vs. Grocerant

Grocery stores aren’t just for cartloads of food staples anymore. They’re becoming hybrids. You may hear the term “grocerant” as grocery stores set out to conquer eating out.

The Data Driving Groceranting

Consumers are feeling the pinch of inflation. Here are some numbers, according to Specialty Food Association. A typical restaurant meal costs 3.4 x more than a meal made with groceries. In October, grocery prices were up 12.4% annually, while restaurant prices grew 8.6%. Everyone is competing for limited dollars, while working to give consumers what they crave: convenience.

Salad Bar to Food Hall Evolution

For years, grocers have promoted prepared foods to offset restaurant meals costs with everything from salad bars to custom deli sandwiches to carry-out. Now, grab-and-go has become sit-down-and-eat. Big grocers offer food-hall style options that include BBQ, Asian food, and tacos. Think food hall on aisle 8.

According to CNN Business, big names like Kroger, Whole Foods and Hy-Vee are the grocers driving the grocerant trend. Kroger has even opened its own restaurant chain called Kitchen 1883 Café and Bar.

What’s Good for the Goose

Portugal has long had “taskinas,” cafes by day that also sell local meats, wines, and other goods. These taskinas then turn into fine dining establishments as the sun sets. While they can’t fully compete with real grocery stores, they pull dollars their way.

During the last couple of years, restaurants used their supplier relationships of bulk food at cost to sell their customers groceries. This raised the average order size and allowed locals to support neighborhood restaurants.

Do you have specialties that could make you more of a grocer to your guests? Maybe special seasoning that can make potatoes in the home air fryer sing? Or bread dough that can be baked at home to take sandwich night to new highs? How about pre-made burgers and sauces? Many restaurants also bundle up theme night fixings, much like meal kits, for an even more awesome Taco Tuesday or Chicken Night. Of course, all this can be delivered through Uber Eats for convenience.

Special, for the Win

Nobody really wants their birthday dinner at a grocery store. Ambiance and a break in routine still matter. So, while convenience may drive the grocerant trend, restaurants still do what they do best: create take-me-away experiences that feel like an everyday getaway.

If you want to transport your guests by adding extra ahh to your patio, let us know. Transforming outdoor spaces into pure bliss is our intention. We believe great custom patio enclosures make the owner smile and guests want to linger. And we love talking patio whether you decide to use us or not. So, ask us anything, anytime.



Austin Inspiration for Restaurants Everywhere

One look at the ink on chef arms and hands in town and you have your first cue that folks in Austin ooze creativity. They care about fun, the environment, being good to their staff, and of course, throwing down some innovative cuisine.

Oaxaca to Double Bubble

Some Austin chefs go to great lengths, as in miles and miles, to get homegrown ingredients. According to OpenTable, for Nixta Taqueria that means crafting house tortillas from “an heirloom corn sourced from a family grower in Oaxaca.” Lucky Robot uses seafood sourced from the James Beard Foundation and Monterey Bay Aquarium’s sustainability programs to help protect the bounty of the ocean responsibly. Dolphin clap! In the quirky department, Voodoo Donuts shows they can bake and chew gum at the same time with Double Bubble dust and a wrapped piece of gum on the vanilla icing on their Bubble Donut.  There’s even pizza inspiration from Detroit. Order the Cadillac at Via 313 and you’ll get a mouthful of marinara and more offbeat extras like gorgonzola, fig preserves, balsamic glaze, and Prosciutto di Parma in the unmistakable deep dish Detroit crust. 

Tackling the Big Stuff

Recently, local chefs participated in a pop-up event to help draw attention to one of the biggest environmental issues today, food waste. They gave perfectly good food and drink scraps new life.  Their demonstrations on low-waste cooking included techniques like dehydrating, making vinegars, and incorporating mushroom stems as a desert ingredient.  

Staffing issues are growing these days. Some Austin restaurants are paying a living wage so that there’s no need for tips. Others are offering sick leave as a benefit. L’Oca d’Oro does both. That creates loyalty and generates top-notch hospitality for customers, a win-win for everyone. 

Special Experiences

Live large at a ten-seat restaurant in town that changes its menu weekly. Go hunting and learn butchering from an expert snout-to-tail chef in town. Eat a three-course meal blindfolded. Bowl and eat amazing enchiladas at the same time. Have Indian fusion inside a convenience store. Creative souls have thought about just about everything in this town, from answering bigger industry problems to making sure fun stays on the menu for locals and visitors alike.

A Slight Bias

Since we’re not far from Austin, we’re a little partial to the eating scene here. We’ve been lucky enough to sample incredible food from a variety of cultures and immerse ourselves in exciting venues nearly everywhere. Friends include those we got to know early on over a sketch pad and pencil, blocking out patio enclosure ideas. These local experiences took us out of state, then across the south and now all over the country. It’s fun for us! Suggestions on great patio ideas that help grow your business year-round and plans for dinner are always a call away.


Lazy Dog

Lazy Dog Restaurant -Summerlin, NV

Lazy DogIf you’re in Vegas and want a rustic cozy escape away from the strip, this is your spot. Food here gets taste bud high fives, right down to the garnishing, and wait staff get google call outs for being all kinds of amazing. Reserve a table ahead of time for larger family and friend parties. Then get the apps rolling with delicious morsels like sweet potato tots, deep fried deviled eggs, queso dip, street corn fries, and buffalo cauliflower. Hungry yet? It’s a big menu that lands brilliantly from apps to dessert, brunch to midnight.

As the name implies, it’s a woof-friendly restaurant group too with besties eating together on the patio. They also gave us the ultimate compliment by being a repeat customer. This mega patio with jumbo beams called for a patio enclosure with oversized manual shades to match. They’re strong, too. Instead of the Velcro or fasteners others use to tie curtains to the wall, we use zippers to create a virtually air-tight seal. This prevents unexpected tears that can ruin an investment. We’re passionate about what we do and honored that Lazy Dog came back for more of the same in their newest location.


Eating In. Eating Out. What’s Next.

Have you noticed that we’re all staying in our cars to drive through for coffee and carbs more than ever? Using our phones to interact with restaurants more? Eating breakfast at 7 a.m., 10 a.m. or noon on a work day? Yes. There’s a new normal for restaurants and take out, one that’s tied to the new normal for everyone eating out. What was the norm may be forever gone after the masks have come off. So, where are opportunities for chef•cess?

Consumer Behavior has Changed

New habits developed over the last two years have changed the rhythm of our days. This has impacted the times we eat and where and how we eat. Working from home continues, which means less noshing out earlier in the day and a trend to more cooking at home. It also keeps demand for ultra-convenience close to home. Get ready for more double drive-through lanes being constructed.

Oh, and lunch hour is no longer an hour. Dinner is no longer just a 5 o’clock focus.

New Views on Taking Care

As health consciousness spikes, juicers are coming out and things like intermittent fasting are trending. Entire meals are skipped with 16/8 and Eat-Stop-Eat fasting. Plant-based menus are becoming more and more common. And it’s a trend that goes beyond juice and smoothie bars. How will this self-care with food impact your restaurant?

Restaurants are taking care of their staff in new and inventive ways too. Tipping is being reinvented as some restaurants automatically add a flat 20% for service with the option for guests to leave more. To retain staff, new flexibility like shortened hours, vacation time and new support like health benefits are showing up to lure workers back and build happiness.

When You’re Out You’re Out

There may be an increase in drive-through, fast casual, sipping a meal through a straw and cooking at home, but going out for a real meal will always be special. Providing that sense of escape and hospitality at a table will never go out of style. Consumers are realizing that they may have to be more patient with reduced staffing. They’re embracing smaller, more curated menus that have become the norm as restaurants battle to keep food waste down and plating
realistic for kitchen staff. Most especially, they’re enjoying the new level of creativity that’s sprung up out of necessity.

At an OpenTable panel, chef JJ Johnson recently said, “We should come back as a new industry.” Change is always constant in life and business. We’ve had a rapid dose of it over the last two years. Restaurateurs who can ride the tsunami of change with nimble optimism and practicality, will feed the joy the industry offers in the years ahead.

We amplify joy by helping more people eat outside through more seasons with the patio enclosures we build. If our experts can help you make the most of a change that’s clearly here to stay, please let us know. We are happy to offer information, tips on quality or a design quote so that you can make the most of your outdoor space. Here’s to the ever-evolving new normal for all of us.


Cover 3- San Antonio, TX

The name’s the tip off. Sports play a key role here. Expect top-notch food and service, along with plenty of screens for watching your team pull out the win. Call in a ref to decide between the legendary dry-rubbed wings or the burgers that Texas Monthly gives high marks. Frito Pie Burger, anyone? The smokey, spicy fried pickle chips, another fan fav, go with all of it. 

This upscale, stylish, yet unpretentious spot also sports an enclosed patio. It’s a beautifully thought through installation with fixed shades done in gray tones to blend seamlessly with the trees and grounds surrounding the restaurant. Our measure-twice-cut-once designers and installers have indeed been around the concrete block more than a few times. The installation required exacting measuring to level out a variety of heights, creating a horizontal plane on uneven ground.