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Encouraging staff and children to enjoy outdoor dining creates a healthy environment. And outdoor dining canopies give schools plenty of ways to encourage alfresco dining.  

According to Sunderland Clinical Exercise Physiologist Dr Paul Innerd, outdoor dining has many advantages to our health. It reduces our cortisol levels, lowers stress and increases relaxation.  It also reduces inflammation and strengthens our immune systems.

But the problem for schools doesn’t lie in understanding the benefits of outdoor dining. The issue surrounds figuring out how to create sufficient school outdoor eating areas that can stand the often wet and cold UK climate and encourage outdoor dining even when the sun isn’t shining. 

The good news is there are several excellent solutions. Which all create wonderful opportunities to build a diverse range of outdoor eating areas around your school. Some of which have multiple purposes too. Such as transforming into an extra classroom, or to help protect school children from extreme weather conditions like the sun, wind, or rain. 

You can choose from:

  • School dining shelters
  • Outdoor dining canopies
  • Covered picnic benches

1. School Dining Shelters

School dining shelters offer the most cover and protection from the elements and are the most versatile. They often consist of aluminium or steel structure buildings with polycarbonate roofs and come in many sizes to suit almost any area. 

You can build shelters with a variety of side panel options such as:

Fully enclosed

This is similar to adding an additional room to your school. All sides are enclosed which means it is weatherproof. You can also add heating and lighting to an enclosed school dining shelter, making it perfect for all seasons. 

The downside, for this type of dining shelter, is that it doesn’t really incorporate outdoor dining. It’s an extra room that comes without the cost and hassle of building a brick structure. 

However, a school dining shelter with adjustable sides will give you the best of both worlds. There’s more on that option coming up. 

Partially enclosed

One or two sides of the school dining shelter incorporate side panels for extra shelter from the elements, the rest is open. 

A partially enclosed school shelter is perfect for outdoor dining but more suitable for the warmer months. 


An adjustable school dining shelter is perhaps the best solution for UK weather as the sides are flexible. They can incorporate roller shutters or doors, which can be open to the elements in the warmer seasons and closed in the colder months. 

You can choose glass, or polycarbonate infills for your side panels to bring in light. And this school dining shelter can include heating and lighting for the cooler, darker months.  

What Type Of Furniture Is Suitable For A School Dining Shelter?

Because of the versatile nature of school dining shelters, you’ll need to consider the type of furniture you’re going to use. 

If you want to create an enclosed space, you won’t need to consider outdoor furniture. But, you might want to consider mobile foldable canteen furniture so that you can use your school dining shelter for other purposes when necessary.

If you’re choosing an open-sided school dining shelter, you’ll need to choose weatherproof furniture.

What Should You Consider Before Choosing A School Dining Shelter?

School dining shelters are similar adding an extra building to your premises. In some situations planning permission is required but this not always the case. You can have the shelter fixed to an existing building or freestanding. 

A lean-to shelter will be less expensive, though there are a couple of limitations:

  • First, you need to have permission from the owner of the wall you are fixing the structure to.
  • Second, your wall needs to be able to take the weight of the new structure.  

So, before you make a decision on what type of structure you choose for a school dining shelter, it’s best to talk to a manufacturer for expert advice.  

2. Outdoor Dining Canopies

Outdoor dining canopies bridge the gap between a ‘fully loaded’ outdoor dining shelter and a covered picnic table.

On one extreme, outdoor dining canopies are built on a steel frame structure, which can incorporate side panels to create an enclosed, heatable space. And on the other extreme, you’ll find outdoor dining canopies that look like fabric shade sails. Or open-sided tepees that sit over several picnic benches. 

Outdoor Dining Canopies Bring A Wide Choice Of Aesthetically Pleasing Options

A common feature of outdoor dining canopies is the ‘tepee style’ which looks inviting and exciting. It adds a bold aesthetic to your school.

Of course, that’s not the only type of outdoor dining canopy you can choose for your school. You can also choose shade sails, and canopies with either a hard polycarbonate roof or fabric dining canopies. All outdoor dining canopies with fabric roofs come with a wide variety of colourful options.

Create An Inspiring Space

Most outdoor dining canopies can also group together to cover a larger area. But it’s worth noting that if you’re looking to cover a large area, a school dining shelter will be the most practical option. 

But if you want the vibrant aesthetic that a collection of tepees or sails brings to your school then it’s worth noting that this could be an option for you.  

Considerations You’ll Need To Make Before Fitting Outdoor Dining Canopies

Shade sails will often have a centre pole and are large enough for two or three dining tables to sit underneath the shade. Tepees have a four-post steel frame structure. Both of which require some consideration before fitting.

Steel frame outdoor dining canopies will have a lot more steel bars, especially if you group several structures together. You can achieve a fantastic aesthetic, but there will be a larger number of steel posts. 

You can cover the steel bars with post pad protectors, but you will typically have to pay extra for these.  

It’s the same with shade sails. There will be more posts in the area than there would be with a school dining shelter but less than there are with a steel structure canopy. 

Which Materials Are Used in an Outdoor Dining Canopy?

Most tepee and sail style canopies incorporate galvanised and PPC steel frames, with waterproof, fire retardant fabric which is also UV resistant. 

If you find a good supplier, you’ll find that most ‘tepee style’ canopies also come with an integral gutter system. Which reduces corroding, eliminates flooding and inconvenience to your students and staff. 

Furniture Recommendations For An Outdoor Dining Canopy

Unless you choose a fully enclosed ‘tepee style’ outdoor dining canopy, outdoor dining furniture like picnic tables, and benches are the best options.   

3. Covered Picnic Benches

When you think of outdoor dining canopies, these are probably the first thing that comes to mind. You’ll be very familiar with them since they are often seen in the outdoor dining section of most hotels, clubs and restaurants providing much-needed shade. They look equally as good in schools.

Revitalise Your Playground With Covered Picnic Benches

The advantage of covered picnic benches is that they take up very little space and you can position them in the unused corners of your premises. Or you can put them together to create an authentic alfresco dining space.  

Perfect Shade For Children Studying Or Playing Outdoors

Covered picnic benches are a great way to encourage children to stay in the shade during playtimes on hot days. And they can provide a good opportunity for students to do some of their schoolwork outside while staying protected from UV rays.  

Considerations You’ll Need To Make For Covered Picnic Benches

For safety and longevity, you’ll need industrial picnic bench shades rather than the kind you might buy for your home. Professional manufacturers of outdoor shelters will have a portfolio of picnic bench shades for you to choose from.  

Covered picnic benches will be the most accessible type of outdoor canopy you could install. They are easier to install and less expensive. Plus, you can keep adding to your collection of covered picnic benches to suit your budget. However, their use is limited to warmer weather only.