Rooftop bars have taken al fresco dining to new, previously unthinkable heights, changing the face of global skylines and revolutionizing the landscape of the food-and-beverage industry. Surging in popularity, especially among millennials, rooftop bars and restaurants are appearing everywhere – in major cities across the United States (New York, Las Vegas, Chicago, Washington, D.C.) and as far away as London, Tel Aviv, Sydney, Bangkok, and Beijing.
As the prevalence of the sky-high venues continues to soar, let’s get a taste of what rooftop bars are all about, why they are so inviting, and what your foodservice can do to ride the wave of success and wow your customers with an over-the-top, reach-for-the-stars drinking and dining experience.
The Allure of Rooftop Bars
Providing panoramic vistas and breathtaking views of cities lit up at night, there is nothing quite like enjoying a savory menu of artisanal casual foods, specialty cocktails, fine wines, draft beers, and great company from dusk to dawn. Whether the all-night happy hours take place on the 5th or 55th floor, rooftop bars’ signature cool, classy, and laid-back vibe are attracting consumers in droves. The open-air terraces and indoor or outdoor lounges have also become a magnet for international DJs, professional mixologists, and the best bartenders.
Why Rooftop Bars and Millennials are a Match Made in Foodservice Heaven
As the largest group of eating-out diners and as the demographic with the greatest spending power, the millennial generation has caught the attention of foodservice providers. Aiming to please the palates of the 18-34 year-olds and moreover to win their loyalty, restaurant owners have responded by studying their likes and dislikes, their quirks and habits, and have been updating their menus accordingly.
Here is some of what we know about millennial consumers:
- They lead busy lives and value convenience and time-saving service
- They love unusual dining experiences and culinary standouts that they can shout about and share online
- They are open-minded and curious
- They are adventurous eaters
- 53% rate a new experience as an important element in choosing where to eat out
- 78% prefer spending money on an experience or event over purchasing something desirable
- Also known as the Share Generation, three out of four say that dining out with family, friends, and coworkers is the perfect way to socialize
It is not surprising, then, that this is the very generation that you will find eating, drinking, dancing, partying, chilling, and paying big bucks at rooftop bars the world over.
The History of Rooftop Bars
Delivering a decidedly more luxurious experience than their ground-level counterparts, rooftop bars are often glamorously located in modern hotels, overlooking historical landmarks, towering above the lapping waves of the ocean, or in highly romantic or exotic settings. They are also designed to be the perfect venues for snapping an awesome selfie or an Instagram-worthy photo of a one-of-a-kind cocktail.
With rooftop bars ubiquitous across the country and one of today’s hottest trends, you might think that the exciting plateaus high in the sky are a modern-day phenomenon. However, in fact, rooftop bars boast a fascinating history dating back to 1890 when the first ‘roof garden’ debuted in New York City’s Casino Theater at Broadway and 36th street. Designated to be a place where customers could kickback in the open air while drinking cooling beverages and listening to music, the recipe for success lay in the serving of strong drinks (i.e. vintage champagne, beer, and whiskey) instead of lemonade.
Following in the Casino’s heels, rooftop-complexes-turned-gardens began to proliferate, including the grand opening of the then-new Madison Square Garden, whose lavish rooftop garden could accommodate up to 1,200 guests and was adorned with elaborate ornaments and neoclassical arches.
However, it wasn’t long afterwards that the decline of the popular venues began. Their gradual demise can be attributed to the birth of another American phenomenon in the 1920s: Air conditioning. Suddenly, it became less compelling to sit under balmy skies. Instead, consumers found a way to escape the tyranny of the streets’ heat by enjoying a talking picture in a chilly room with their drink of choice in hand.
Circa the new millennium and the renewed infatuation with rooftop bars and what you have is an iconic piece of U.S. food-and-beverage industry history that has come full circle.
Top Picks in Global Rooftop Bars
No matter how old your customers are, a little creativity goes a long way in capturing their hearts – and their business. While your food or beverage operation may not be able to provide an above-ground dining experience, you can still innovate and captivate your guests by reading about what the big guns in the industry are doing and by crafting your own version of an al fresco experience like no other.
So let’s take a tour around the world to see which rooftops are topping the popularity charts.
New York Rooftop Bars
Dear Irving on Hudson: With admission by reservation only, this 41st floor indoor lounge and open-air terrace, aka ‘the downtown cocktail destination with an uptown address,’ is one of New York’s highest rooftop bars featuring a glamorous setting with an amazing city view.
Los Angeles Rooftop Bars
If you’re looking for an outdoor drinking spot where you can enjoy plenty of sunshine as well as a spectacular view, head to L.A.’s rooftop bars.
A great place to start is Spire 73, to date the tallest open-air bar in the Western world. In addition to the Vegas-looking lounge teeming with water fountains and open-fire pits, the venue is surrounded by glass panels that make you feel excitedly close-up to the incredible 1,000-foot drop. At the same time, as you mingle with the after-business-hours crowd, you will be treated to 360-degree views of many of the city’s iconic landmarks, including Dodger Stadium and the famous Hollywood sign.
Next, head over to Broken Shaker, the rooftop bar situated above downtown’s Freehand Hotel. As your palate is pampered with the James Beard Award-nominated tiki bar program, featuring specialty cocktails such as Carrot Colada, your taste buds will also be treated to the global menu featuring street food from around the world. And if all that wasn’t enough, you will be surrounded by palm trees, swan floats, wooden accents, and unobstructed views of the city’s tallest skyscrapers.
Paris Rooftop Bars
For front-row seats to Paris’s numerous dazzling light shows and a priceless view of one of the world’s foremost landmarks, the Eiffel Tower, head to the Les Ombres bar and restaurant. As you enjoy kicking back in the luxurious setting and choosing from an outstanding menu of food and drinks, you can also impress your friends with the following piece of rooftop bar trivia: “Les Ombres” means ‘the shadows,’ a reference to the shadow of the Eiffel Tower that is often cast over the terrace.
More Global Rooftop Bars
As you continue to draw inspiration from these sci-fi cityscapes and begin to brainstorm revenue-generating scenarios for your own customers, be sure to also check out the following crowd pleasing venues: London’s Culpeper Roof Garden, a millennial generation magnet due to its emphasis on sustainability and its use of homegrown herbs to concoct innovative cocktails; Bangkok’s Centara Grand Hotel, where you will be treated to a rooftop view of the snaking Chao Phraya. Be sure to dress up and enjoy all-night dancing, DJs, and plenty of champagne and cocktails; Jerusalem’s 5-star Mamilla Hotel, where its rooftop lounge, restaurant, and bar offers modern gourmet cuisine against the backdrop of the ancient city walls and lights.
How to Create a Unique Dining Space for Your Customers
The glamorous experience of imbibing a few drinks while gazing down over a jaw-dropping view is hard to match, especially if you run a modest restaurant or catering service firmly planted on the ground. However, with some judicious efforts and a dollop of out-of-the-box creativity, you can wow your customers and entice prospective newcomers with a one-of-a-kind dining experience of your own design.
Some ideas to consider include:
- Update your dining area to keep customers’ experience feeling fresh
- Invest in movable furniture layouts that allow you to recreate and change your restaurant’s physical space at will
- All customers love a bargain so be sure to feature special promotions, deals, loyalty rewards, and other incentives
- Create an irresistible wonderland (as well as a buzz for your ‘biz) by decorating for special occasions and by investing in one-of-a-kind accessories for your interior and outdoor spaces
- Finally, with the holiday season right around the corner, comfort your customers with special deals on their traditional favorite dishes while you simultaneously wow them with your chefs’ latest culinary masterpieces.
Whether your eatery is located on the ground floor, 10th floor, or in the penthouse, if you play your cards right you’ll have both consumers and professionals shouting your praises from the rooftops – and that is one marketing gem you don’t want to miss out on.