"Dining out" takes on an entirely new meaning in temperate climates or when summer arrives. Rather than being cooped up inside for meals, diners flock to cafes and restaurants that boast al fresco seating to enjoy a bit of scenery and fresh air with their meals.
When the sun comes out and the breezes are warm, blooming gardens and trellis-covered restaurant patios can be ideal dining spots to grab a meal. Good food combined with a hearty dose of fresh air can make everything from a cappuccino to a hamburger taste better.
Considering the best outdoor-dining spots can fill up quickly, and enjoying a meal outside takes a bit of finesse, follow these tips to make the most of any outdoor-dining experience.
* Make a reservation. Outdoor seating is not always easy to get. To ensure you will have a spot at your favorite restaurant, call ahead and reserve a table. Otherwise, you may have to wait quite a while for a table to become available or be forced to sit inside.
* Scout out restaurants beforehand. If you are hoping to try a new restaurant that boasts outdoor dining, plan a visit to see the layout of the space. Many restaurants, even those without ample outdoor space, cater to the outdoor-seating crowd, even if their outdoor dining area is limited to a handful of cafe tables placed near the curb. Unless you want to spend your meal with pedestrians walking by or inhaling car exhaust fumes, visit the restaurant ahead of time to ensure that the outdoor seating is more amenable to an enjoyable meal.
* Choose restaurants with overhead coverage. It is one thing to want to eat outdoors, and entirely another to be subjected to the wrath of Mother Nature. An outdoor seating area should be comfortable, offering the best blend of fresh air and ample protection from the elements. Umbrellas or a covered patio can provide shelter should it start to drizzle or you need relief from the summer sun.
* Don't assume an outdoor restaurant is pet-friendly. Just because there are outdoor tables does not mean you can bring your pooch along. If you will be spending the day with your dog and then want to enjoy a lunch or dinner outdoors with your pet, verify that a restaurant is pet-friendly before meal time. Do not leave a dog unattended in a hot car and waiting for you to finish a meal should you discover the restaurant is not pet-friendly.
* Expect some uninvited guests. Dining outside means bees, flies, birds, and other animals. Those who are deathly afraid of all buzzing insects may want to eat indoors instead.
* Check for a dedicated outdoor waitstaff. Unless there is a waitstaff assigned to outdoor seating, you may spend more time than you anticipated waiting for service outdoors. Waiters may not realize you are outside, and it can be easy to forget about patrons who are not seated in the heart of the restaurant. Restaurants accustomed to serving guests outdoors will have staff assigned to outdoor seating areas, particularly during busy times of the day.