When your customers are picturing their perfect vacation, they are picturing gorgeous views and delicious food. They are not picturing broken furniture and rusting bar equipment. Unfortunately, that's exactly what you will have if you buy your outdoor equipment and furniture solely on price without doing your due diligence. As an equipment and supply dealer in the Florida and Caribbean markets for nearly sixty years, we have been asked to visit many properties where the operator had gone out and bought all new residential outdoor furniture for their property, only to have to replace it with commercial furniture a few months later. Especially in this economy, you need your investments to last. Do the research and spend a little more at the beginning, and save yourself the headaches and the replacement costs down the road.
In Florida we live in a gorgeous climate that people from around the world spend millions of dollars each year to visit. You want your outdoor areas to look inviting and to withstand damage from both your guests and our climate. There are common mistakes that operators make when they design an outdoor area in Florida. It doesn't matter if the property is a poolside lounge area, a rooftop bar area, or just a casual area set aside for your guests and patrons to enjoy the afternoon sun.
The most common mistake that we see is that people design these areas as if they were designing their own personal back yards, and use the same types of products. You might have found outdoor seats and cushions at your local big box retailer and thought they were nice enough to use on your pool side chaise lounges and outdoor seating. The thing to remember here is that these retailers may have hundreds of stores around the country, and not all stores are located in areas with as harsh outdoor elements as Florida. So a seat cushion made for the short summer months in New York is not made with the same standards as a seat cushion that is used year round in Florida. In addition, the climate in Florida is much more severe than the summer climates elsewhere. You have to figure the amount of heat, UV rays, humidity, rain and salt air. These larger retailers inventory a generic product that may work for most states around the country, but not for Florida's extreme climate. The combination of the sun and the salt air alone will greatly diminish the life of most outdoor equipment, supplies and furniture even if the products that are labeled for "outdoor use".
A lot of thought and planning needs to be incorporated in specifying an outdoor commercial application in Florida. If the planning is not done correctly you will find yourself with a lot of rusted and corroded equipment, that will have to be replaced and disposed of within a year, or worse yet you might find your self fighting a legal battle because someone got hurt on your property. Besides the obvious differences between using residential grade products versus commercial grade furniture, Florida's extreme climate dramatically shortens the life expectancy of most food service equipment. The salt air and close proximity to the equator create a very harsh environment. While most manufacturers produce equipment and supplies for outdoor use, many are suitable for outdoor use throughout the rest of the United States, but just do not hold up well to Florida's brutal conditions. The salt air and UV sunlight will cause wood to warp, plastics to melt, fabrics to fade, and metals to rust. Buying the right equipment from the beginning will result in not having to buy it twice. Most importantly, buying the right items does not have to cost more. It just has to be specified correctly from the beginning.
There are several manufacturers of outdoor equipment, supplies and furniture that will work better and last longer here in Florida. While nothing will last forever, these manufacturers have developed products that will hold up to Florida's extreme environment. A few of the manufacturers include Vermont Island, Grosfillex, Cambro, MagiKitch'n, Supreme Metal and G.E.T. Vermont Island builds outdoor custom modular food service carts. Their units consist primarily of bar components and mobile cooking equipment built specifically for outdoor use. Their units are made with a tropical wood known as Ipe. The Ipe will not warp in the Florida sun and it resists insects. In addition, they use all stainless steel cooking equipment and materials such as granite or stone that hold up nicely on our beaches. Several properties in Florida who use Vermont Islands are: The Disney Swan And Dolphin Resorts (Orlando), The Breakers (Palm Beach), The Polo Club (Boca Raton), Ocean Reef Club (Key Largo), The Hilton (Key West), Admiral's Cove (Jupiter), and Hamilton Harbor Yacht Club (Naples).
Outdoor seating is probably the area where most operators make the biggest error. Materials such as chrome and wrought iron may look good for several months but the harsh sun and salt air will degrade these materials, eventually making them unsafe. Even scarier is the fact that many retailers carry residential grade furniture that is not made to the same specifications as commercial grade furniture. Grosfillex is a major manufacturer of commercial plastic furniture. They design and build beautiful plastic furniture to look like metal and many other trendy materials. The difference between what Grosfillex manufacturers and what you will find in your local home patio store is that Grosfillex builds their furniture to a higher standard. They conform to several ASTM (American Society For Testing And Materials) standards, while most chairs that you will see at big box retailers do not. Their chairs must be able to maintain a load of 400 lbs, while tilting back 4 inches on their rear legs, for half an hour. Their chair backs must be able to maintain 150 pounds for half an hour, arm rests must be able to sustain the weight of 250 pounds suspended from them, and their chaise lounges are certified to sustain a 400-pound person. The safety and well-being of your patrons should be the driving force in selecting the safest furniture. However, the settlement that you will be forced to pay a patron who sues you as a result of a injury from a broken chair is also a great motivator in buying quality commercial chairs and furniture.
Cambro is another manufacturer who designs products for use in pool areas and patios. They offer several different sized portable bars that can easily be rolled out for temporary use in most environments. Cambro blow molds their bars from durable plastics; therefore they hold up very well even in our climate. In addition to their portable bars and ice caddies, they also manufacture plastic tray, plates and polycarbonate drinkware. The drinkware pieces have the look and style of glassware, but offer the safety of plastic. They are reusable and will last longer than their glassware counterparts. Several operators who use Cambro products are: Green Streets Restaurant And Lounge (Coconut Grove), Boca Raton Hotel (Boca Raton), J.B.'s On The Beach (Deerfield Beach), and The Renaissance Orlando Sea World (Orlando), just to name a few.
G.E.T. Melamine Company is another manufacturer who designs smallwares items that can be safely used in your outdoor pool areas and bars. Their polycarbonate beer mugs, martini glasses, wine glasses and other drinkware look like glass, but are made to be more durable to handle all of your outdoor needs. They also offer dozens of patterns of dinnerware to help set the dining experience, all made of melamine. Melamine products are tough and will not break if dropped. This will give you peace of mind and avoid injury to an unsuspecting patron who might be walking around barefoot in your pool area.
To make an educated purchase of outdoor cooking equipment, you must understand a little bit about stainless steel. There are two types of stainless steel primarily used in the foodservice industry, the first is 430 series stainless steel and the second is 304 series stainless steel. The main differences between the two is the amount of nickel in both metals. Most operators do not know the difference between the two metals because both metals look the same. However, 430 stainless steel will rust much faster in the salt air than the 304 stainless steel. Since 430 stainless steel is slightly less expensive than 304 stainless steel, many manufacturers will build cooking equipment with 430 stainless, for outdoor use. While a 430 stainless steel char broiler might not show signs of rust within a year if placed in central Ohio, it will certainly rust within the first year in service in Florida.
I recently reviewed the plans specified by an equipment dealer located in the Midwest who designed a roof top patio using a char broiler made of 430 stainless. The unit will certainly rust in the salt air, obviously not a problem in the Midwest. This is an example of a piece of cooking equipment designed to work outdoors, just not in a coastal area where there is salt air present. I contacted the end user and recommended that they speak to their consultant and have this specific piece of cooking equipment re-specified to a brand such as MagiKitch'n. MagiKitch'n builds a similar unit, but they build theirs out of 304 stainless steel, therefore it will endure our local salt air much longer. With a little research, or guidance from an experienced equipment and supply company you can extend the life of your equipment investments. Two properties in Florida using MagiKitch'n outdoor cooking equipment are Mizner Country Club (Boca Raton) and Saddlebrook Resort and Spa (Wesley Chapel).
A lot of operators also chose to use galvanized metals instead of stainless steel, primarily in the kitchen or bar areas. A hotel's pool and patio area in Florida is constantly subjected to rain, humidity, extreme heat and salt air. Galvanized metals will rust quickly. Supreme Metal Company offers an all stainless steel series of back bar equipment. While their economy, galvanized line known as the Challenger Series will hold up for several years on inside bars, outside bars will fare much better when their entire understructure and other surfaces are made of stainless. The Prestige line by Supreme Metal features all stainless steel design, and it is polished and chromed. These metals will not only last longer in the Florida heat and salt air, but the mirrored chromed finish will make any bartender proud. A few well known users of Supreme Metal's Prestige line are: The Palm Beach Country Club (Palm Beach), Sandals Resort (Jamaica), and Beaches Resort (Turks And Caicos).
Designing and specifying the correct equipment, supplies and furniture to use in an outdoor pool bar or patio takes time and effort. But by not doing your due diligence the first time around, you might select equipment that will not last or worse yet create an unsafe condition for your guests or patrons. The safest and most durable outdoor products should always be commercially rated, if made of metals should be specified as 304 stainless steel, and made of materials that will resist UV or are designed for Florida's harsh environment. By following these simple guidelines, you can easily create an outdoor "oasis" that is more profitable for you, safer for your guests and will give you a longer return on your investment.