Western wildfire smoke is making outdoor dining impossible

Patrons have lunch outside a restaurant as smoky skies from the northern California wildfires casts a reddish color around noon in San Francisco, September 2020
Patrons have lunch outside a restaurant as smoky skies from the northern California wildfires casts a reddish color around noon in San Francisco, September 2020
Photo: Ray Chavez/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News (Getty Images)

Between COVID-related business shutdowns, social distancing protocols, and no comprehensive response or plan from the federal government, bars and restaurants are facing unprecedented challenges. But now even nature seems to be against western business owners, as smoke from raging wildfires is making outdoor dining basically impossible.


According to Restaurant Business, the incredible smoke being created by fires raging across California, Oregon, and Washington is making it so that restaurants simply cannot serve people using outdoor patios. “The thick blanket of smoke was as if “John Carpenter’s ‘The Fog’ rolled in,” said Chad Mackay, the CEO of a “multi concept” Washington State company named Fire & Vine Hospitality. “The first day we did operate, and it was bad...We called all the customers and said, ‘We can’t open the patios.’”

It’s hard to read news like this and not think of movies, novels, and short stories in which a sentient nature, fed up with humanity’s constant bullshit, simply lets loose with everything it’s got. But let’s not forget, while the wind is spreading wildfire smoke nationwide, these fires are largely caused by people, and we are responsible for adding insult to injury. After all, the 10,000-acre El Dorado Fire in California was ignited by a “pyrotechnic device” used during a gender reveal party (🙄), so we can’t even blame lightning strikes for some of this destruction.

As with the previous months, if there’s something you can do to help local businesses, consider it. Buy a gift certificate, order takeout (consider ordering directly from the restaurant instead of the apps), and try to be patient if there are problems with your order or if things aren’t exactly as you want them. It’s a tough time for everyone, and if we want to have restaurants in the future we need to do whatever we can to support them.

Jacob Dean is a food and travel writer and psychologist based in New York. He likes beer, less traveled airports, and is allergic to grasshoppers (the insect, not the mixed drink.)


The fires in CA are in large part due to the way they no longer clear out forests anymore. CA forests are full of old dead trees that easily catch fire and burn hotter than live trees. Decades ago they would be cleared out and controlled burns would be done to keep things in check. Now we just let them go and when jackasses set them on fire we complain about how its worse than ever. Over 97% of fires are started by people or people related activity (power lines).

Historically we aren’t even close to the worst it could be though. Back in 18th century CA would be on fire for a good portion of the summer and some numbers put the size at between 4 and 12 million acres a year. Right now we are pushing under 3 in our “record” year.

So I guess we could start maintaining forests again or we can just bitch and moan and spend tax dollars on less effective means.