Last Call: Do you love or hate outdoor dining?

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Someone’s happy to be dining al fresco.
Someone’s happy to be dining al fresco.
Photo: FatCamera (Getty Images)

The term “outdoor dining” is rather loaded these days. Most people assume you’re referring to the idea of outdoor restaurant dining, a topic on which the American public is starkly divided in the COVID-19 era, and understandably so. But I don’t want to dredge all that up—not right at the end of the day. I just want to talk about outdoor dining in the broadest sense: the act of eating food outside as opposed to indoors. In my own life I’ve encountered many people who can’t stand it, though that could be because the Midwest is particularly inhospitable to the concept ten months out of the year. Despite the rarity of suitable days or perhaps because of them, I love outdoor dining and have always taken every opportunity to indulge in it, whether at home or elsewhere.

There’s something transformative about eating in temperatures you can’t control, with a breeze that wafts the scent of the food around and makes your meal more precarious and deserving of rapt attention. The taste of a tomato is altogether different when you can see or smell nearby soil as you eat it. Not only that, but there are certain foods and drinks I’d only ever consider eating outdoors: s’mores, ice cream in a cone, clementines, margaritas, iced coffee. Pairing these items with recirculated air conditioning doesn’t sound appealing in the slightest. And it’s not just a summertime thing—hot chocolate is best under a blanket outdoors in the middle of winter, too.

I won’t pretend there aren’t downsides. Bugs can get pretty bad out there (though mosquitos tend to snack on me whether I’m snacking or not, so it’s a wash). And shade is a key factor; without some sort of overhang or umbrella, an outdoor meal can leave you feeling sapped by the sun. At the beach, no matter how well you insulate your snacks, you’re bound to get a grit of sand in at least one bite. I’m sure there are other downsides I’m not thinking of, though I’m equally certain the naysayers will be the first to point them out. So thanks for that, naysayers, and I look forward to hearing what you have to add!