Cold nights and chilly days don’t have to spell the end for your clients’ outdoor entertainment areas. Fire pits and heaters can make dining al fresco or enjoying time together under the stars enjoyable for visitors and profitable for owners.
Kim Reynolds, a commercial sales representative at Blossman Gas in Asheville, North Carolina, says her area’s population boom has led to an increase in the number of local dining and entertainment venues. As a result, many are differentiating themselves by offering year-round outdoor access. It’s a “foodie area” and “[owners] want a product that is unique” to keep those spaces comfortable when the temperatures drop, she says.
Fire trend heats up
One popular way they’re doing that is with fire features. Vent-free linear fireplaces are attractive in her market because they offer warmth and a place for people to gather — with a stylish touch. “More people are interested in aesthetics,” she says. “Several locations have a see-through fireplace in the lobby that goes into the outdoor patio.”
The trend is present in multifamily projects, too. For a high-end, 137-unit apartment complex in Kansas City, Missouri’s growing River Market District, Jeremiah Sliffe, operations manager at Second Nature Outdoor Living & Landscaping, built a poolside fire pit and grill, both plumbed to the same 100-gallon tank. Residents can pop down briefly to grill dinner, or linger and enjoy the pool and fire. The refillable central tank also makes maintaining the propane supply easy for building management. The grill and fire pit together use 800 to 1,000 gallons a year, says Matt McDonald, account manager at Ferrellgas, which services the project.
“The trend for patios and restaurants is a 20-lb. grill bottle [tank],” he says. “If customers want a permanent feature and it’s going to be burning all the time, then we’ll talk about plumbing it in and being able to fill it.”
A custom touch
Larry Baty, operations manager at Cadenhead Servis Gas in Dallas, says today’s fire pits and fire rings are trending larger than in the past and include control features such as thermostats and electronic ignitions. “They used to all be lit by hand or pilot lights,” he says.
Design elements such as tempered glass rocks are also increasingly common in the fire features he services. The rocks can have a single color or multiple colors to reflect the space’s aesthetic or a company’s brand.
“I think [people] would prefer to be sitting outside if the weather is agreeable. If it’s chilly and they’ve got a fireplace, that’s a lot of ambiance.”
Paul Nigon, director of customer engagement at the Outdoor GreatRoom Company in Burnsville, Minnesota, says the company’s Crystal Fire Burners (top image) are popular among customers today. They feature tempered-glass fire rocks and can be used in custom fire tables, pits, and other elements. Fueled by a 20-lb. propane tank or natural gas, they start with a battery-powered ignition.
Customization is a draw for Reynolds’s customers in Asheville as well. Linear fire features displaying business names, etchings, colorful LED lighting, and even speakers that connect via Bluetooth to play music are popular outdoors, she says.
Continuing the custom trend, Blossman is adding a line of fire features made from converted wine crates supplied by the customer, reflecting their favorite wine or wine-making region. “It’s very different and is something that can go into different spaces, such as wedding venues, where they can rent the product,” she says. To address the range of project needs, they can be permanently installed or temporarily placed with a portable tank, or they can be plumbed to a central system.
Beyond the pit
Traditional patio heaters are joining the trend. Ferrellgas’s McDonald is seeing an uptick in triangular glass-tube heaters as restaurants and other hospitality venues draw customers to their outdoor spaces with ambiance and comfort.
Propane helps owners do this affordably. “The reason people go with propane outside is because it’s so expensive to run natural gas,” he says. “Say you have 15 heaters. You can spend $20,000 running natural gas lines to them. It’s a lot less expensive to … [pay for] a service where propane tanks are delivered to you.”
That service can be a big time savings for a busy venue owner. One such customer is JJ’s, a popular restaurant in downtown Kansas City that has seven such heaters warming its outdoor patio. The project has a cage that Ferrellgas and management can access. His team comes in once or twice a week to remove the empty tanks and replace them with full bottles. They also make sure the tanks are stored upright and that the cage is located away from smoking areas, has safety information posted, and can be locked. “You’ve got that service provided for you, done the right way,” he says.
Whether it’s for show, for warmth, or for a combination of the two, fire features today make a lasting impression on customers and improve owners’ ROI for their outdoor spaces. Propane ensures your clients can take advantage of the opportunity no matter where they are located.
“The fire feature concept has taken off,” Baty says. “I think [people] would prefer to be sitting outside if the weather is agreeable. If it’s chilly and they’ve got a fireplace, that’s a lot of ambiance.”