Eating Outside the Box.

At Contigo in Austin, Texas, only 16 seats are located inside; 50 seats are outside and 60 seats are located under an outdoor awning.
At Contigo in Austin, Texas, only 16 seats are located inside; 50 seats are outside and 60 seats are located under an outdoor awning. Knoxy Photographics

Restaurants create lush patios and turn dining out into lengthy al fresco respites

On days when the weather is warm but not too hot, the best place to be in Austin, Texas, is Contigo. Owned by Ben Edgerton and Andrew Wiseheart, the restaurant, which boasts fresh, quality bar food, is located almost completely outdoors. Fifty of the restaurant’s seats are located in an uncovered beer garden, 16 seats are located within the restaurant’s walls, and 60 seats are situated under an awning. Seats located under the overhang can be fully enclosed with a tent during the winter.

“We chose to have most of our seating outside because it fits with the concept of our restaurant. We are modeled after Contigo Ranch, and the outdoor [ambiance] goes along with this concept.“ Edgerton says. “There is risk involved with opening any restaurant, but the weather in Austin cooperates with an outdoor concept very well. The pros and cons of having outdoor seating go hand in hand. When the weather is good we are packed. When the weather is bad we are slow.”

Whether it’s for happy hour, a whole meal, a picnic on the patio, or a tasting menu consumed under the stars, guests seek outdoor dining during warm-weather months, begging to be showered in the romantic notions of warm afternoons, crisp evenings, and a nighttime setting punctuated by fireflies.

For operators, this means working with the fluctuations of bad weather, noise pollution, and even city regulations. Those that pull off outdoor seating well do it with aplomb, becoming sought after for something they offer—quite literally—outside of their four walls.

Edgerton notes that because Austin is lucky enough to experience warm weeks during the winter months, the restaurant’s outdoor concept flourishes, as it can offer full capacity seating about 245 days of the year.

Contigo serves between 50 and 350 diners a night depending on the day of the week and the season. On days when the mercury drops below 50 degrees or when it rains, Edgerton has found that he can count on the restaurant making half as many sales as it would on a sunny, warm day—and that’s with no fluctuation in the per-person average on checks.

But weather-related declines in sales do not make Edgerton reconsider the al fresco focus at Contigo.

“Our brand has become associated with outdoor dining and we have benefitted greatly from that,” Edgerton says.


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