Food: Factors to consider when planning year-round outdoor dining spaces

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 20, 2024

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Metro Creative Connection

Al fresco dining is popular in spring and summer, and that popularity reached new heights in the summer of 2020. With much of the world still grappling with the outbreak of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 and government officials fearing rising case numbers if indoor gatherings were allowed, many restaurants were limited to offering only outdoor dining to patrons. Such restrictions reintroduced many people to the pleasure of outdoor dining.

Outdoor dining may be synonymous with summer, but there’s no reason why good meals can’t be enjoyed outside year-round. That’s especially true when homeowners and hosts take stock of certain factors when planning outdoor dining spaces they intend to use all year long.

• Lighting: If you plan to keep outdoor dining going after summer, then some extra lighting may be necessary. The sun sets in late afternoon/early evening in fall and winter, so you won’t be able to rely on natural light to keep the dinner table aglow. Lighting also can make outdoor dining in summer more enjoyable. Outdoor string lights can add a relaxing vibe to a deck or patio. If you intend to string the lights up year-round, make sure poles are sturdy enough to withstand winter winds.

• Weather: Table cloths can add a touch of class to outdoor dining tables. But those table cloths are only effective  if they remain on the table. Summer breezes might not prove too great a challenge in that regard, but fall, winter and spring weather might make it hard to keep table cloths on the table where they belong. A simple set of table cloth clips can ensure the wind doesn’t blow table cloths around while people are eating or completely off the table when everyone is inside. Hurricane candle holders also can make it easy to maintain the ambiance candles provide without having to worry about the wind extinguishing the candles in one strong gust.

• Seating: Guests might have no problem dining on traditional summer barbecue fare like burgers and hot dogs while sitting in camping chairs. But hosts who want to serve meals that require the use of a knife and fork will need to make sure all guests have a seat at the table. A foldable picnic-style table that can be easily stored in a garage or shed can do the trick. In addition, some deck and patio tables are expandable, making them ideal options for hosts who may want to work around social distancing guidelines and serve holiday meals outside this year.

• Grill: Charcoal grill devotees may find it frustrating to keep coals lit long enough to get hot so they can keep enjoying grilled meals after summer and throughout fall, winter and spring. A hybrid charcoal/grill smoker that does not expose the fire to the elements as much as a traditional charcoal grill can do the trick, and such a grill also gives cooks the chance to slow cook and smoke foods all year long. For those with no special devotion to charcoal grills, a propane grill can light up in a matter of seconds regardless of the weather.