Commercial outdoor heaters are a great fit for restaurants with al fresco dining, outdoor cafes, hotels, lounges, bars and other common gathering spaces. They enhance an establishment’s atmosphere, creating a more comfortable — and, ultimately, a more profitable — environment for you and the customer.

Read on to see what an outdoor patio heater can do for your commercial establishment and get tips for choosing the right one for your business.

Types of Commercial Patio Heaters

Commercial patio heaters are different from the smaller outdoor heating units you might have in your backyard or camping gear. They are larger with longer-lasting fuel sources, designed to heat more expanse in less time. Because they serve in public settings, you’ll also need to follow more regulations when using them.

Types of commercial patio heaters include the following.


Commercial outdoor heaters with propane fuel are simple to set up, manage and refill. They are usually portable, which is a bonus if you need to move your heater around the patio for different events or secure it during inclement weather. Some propane heaters are tall with a mushroom roof, while others are triangular with a central heating unit. In both designs, propane sits inside the base and fuels the heater. 

With these units, remembering to monitor the tank level is crucial — too little fuel and the heater will not turn on. You must also operate the heater in an open-air environment or a semi-open space with proper ventilation.


Electric patio heaters do not create emissions, but you have to keep them within range of an electrical outlet at all times. Most are not portable. Mounting an electric patio heater can take up a lot of space and isn’t always possible for establishments that don’t own the property, like rentals, catering companies or pop-ups that want to move the heater when they go. Electric heaters also use more energy than a gas patio heater, which could mean a higher electricity bill.

Natural Gas

Natural gas heaters are similar to propane units, but typically require professional installation and need a hookup to an existing natural gas supply. The fuel isn’t accessible in all locations and markets and may require permanent fixtures.

Wood Fires and Fire Pits

Wood fires, fire pits, wood stoves and outdoor fireplaces are a good option for residential backyards, but not commercial spaces. Though beautiful and aromatic, wood is challenging to light and keep lit, and many places have restrictions on which type of wood you can burn. Wood fires also require ventilated areas, but with the added risk of a less manageable flame. Not all settings allow them.

Covered gas or propane fire pits look like glass- or vinyl-topped tables that take up more horizontal space but have a much smaller heating radius than standing heating units. They feature controls that let you maintain a safe, controlled flame with fewer fire hazards. These fire pits light at the touch of a button and burn cleanly, requiring almost no maintenance to keep them looking clean and burning bright. They’re also more energy-efficient and produce fewer emissions, so you’ll save money and protect the environment simultaneously.


Benefits of Portable Patio Heaters for Your Restaurant

If your restaurant has usable outdoor space, a commercial-grade outdoor patio heater is what you need to bring it to life and maximize its value.

  • They are atmospheric: Firelight creates a naturally atmospheric setting that you can tailor to fit your target customers or existing design. Depending on your location, view and design choices, outdoor heaters can create an intimate and cozy spot for romantic dates, a comfortable study area in a college town or a trendy, laid-back environment for casual meetups and weekend events.
  • It expands seating options: Establishing an outdoor dining area expands your seating opportunities to make room for more paying customers. In today’s market, spacious, open-air dining is more critical than ever before, making it the perfect time to invest in your outdoor space.
  • To enhance your outdoor space: If you already have an existing outdoor dining area, portable heaters can help you make it more enticing with natural light and heat. The more comfortable the environment, the longer your guests will stay — and the more they will spend on drinks and food. Transform your outdoor dining area into a must-visit destination by advertising it as a great spot to people-watch or the perfect vantage point for a nearby water view or skyline.
  • To offer year-round service: Patio heaters make it possible to open earlier, close later and provide more year-round service. While some areas will still have to contend with snow and ice, late autumn chill and early spring breezes will be no match for the cozy warmth of a patio heater.
  • Outdoor dining attracts tourists: If you live in a tourist destination, a comfortable outdoor dining area can set you apart from the rest. One survey reports more than 80% of vacationers choose outdoor dining more frequently when on vacation, especially when they have a view or entertainment.

How to Purchase a Portable Patio Heater for Your Business

Consult building codes, local ordinances and the fire code before investing in an outdoor patio heater for your business. Some places have specific regulations regarding placement, construction, storage and fuel type. Once you know what you’re working with, consider the following factors. 

Size and Fuel Type

Fuel options include propane, natural gas, electricity and wood. Outdoor heaters only operate on one fuel type, and you cannot mix and match fuel sources. Propane is the ideal fuel because it’s easy to replace when you run low and creates a warm heat that reaches far without outlet restrictions or extension cords.

Depending on your patio size, you may need multiple outdoor heaters to warm the area effectively. The average covered patio requires about one outdoor heater per 1,500 to 2,000 square feet, and the average heater can usually warm patrons within a 20-foot radius.

Freestanding vs. Mounted

Most propane heaters are freestanding, with a built-in weight system that keeps them sturdy in the wind. Some have openings for you to add weight, such as sandbags. Mounted outdoor heaters are typically electric because they require permanent hardwiring to operate efficiently. 

Design and Features

Some outdoor heaters have additional features to enhance the user experience and make it safer to enjoy, such as:

  • Wheels for easier portability.
  • Auto-shutoff technology if moved or tilted.
  • An anchoring arm to add more security for free-standing units.
  • Control settings for specific temperatures.
  • Adjustable heights.
  • Removable rainproof covers.

Your commercial outdoor heater should also be stylish and similar to your current design. Most are available in stainless steel or bronze, in a variety of colors and finishes. While heaters should never create a naked flame, many guests enjoy the sight of flickering firelight, so a heater with some protected visibility could be a natural focal point in your outdoor area.

How to Connect a Propane Tank to Your Patio Heater 

You don’t need matches, lighter fluid or a fire starter to light a propane heater. When you turn it on, a hose will move propane to the burner. You’ll hear a soft hissing sound when you’re successful. Some units require a pressure regulator and hose assembly. Every heater is different, and you must follow all manufacturer instructions for successful setup and use. 

Most outdoor heating units follow a few general rules.

  • Clean before use: Clean each heater component, including knobs, gaskets, valves and hoses, after bringing your heater out of seasonal storage. Remove buildup with warm soapy water and perform a leak check if needed. Never use a rusted, dented or punctured tank. Replace broken parts, including cracked knobs. Always turn your burner off when not in use.
  • Place in a ventilated area: Place your heater in an open or semi-open area with proper ventilation, good airflow and free of possible obstructions. Do not put heaters in a high-traffic area or anywhere near parking lots or roadway traffic. Maintain adequate distance from walls, ceilings and guest tables.
  • Refill tank as needed: Even if they aren’t empty,many propane tanks will stop working if the fuel level is too low for operation. Monitor your propane level and refill or replace the tank as needed for a consistent flame.

Never move or interfere with your heater while it’s on. Extinguish the light and turn all knobs off before proceeding. If you’re covering or moving your unit, allow it to cool fully, and do not move it with an open flame. Consider lifting your heater with a partner to avoid dropping or breaking it. If your heater isn’t working correctly, consult the manufacturer book and check for hose kinks or low fuel pressure.

If you have any questions about setting up your patio heater and connecting it to a propane tank, feel free to contact Foster Fuels. We’re happy to walk you through the process, hook up your tank or give you a refuel.

Safety Tips for Portable Patio Heaters

Never use an indoor heater or residential fuel tank for a commercial unit. Not only is this illegal in most areas, but it’s also unsafe and won’t heat your dining area as effectively. 

Other safety tips to know include:

  • Store spare propane tanks in a dry, outdoor area, with tanks facing upright. Keep them away from moisture to prevent rust.
  • Never place a heater near plants, trees, hanging lights, awnings, drapery or outdoor furniture.
  • Establish safety guidelines and post signs for heater use, especially if you allow pets or cater to families with young children.

Shop Propane Refills at Foster Fuels

A portable propane heater can boost your business’ marketability and create a more enjoyable experience for your guests. Since 1921, Foster Fuels has supplied businesses like yours with year-round, commercial-grade propane refills and delivery service. Contact a Foster Fuels representative to learn more or get specific propane recommendations for your heating needs.