John Fartlington Snodnagel
2010-05-30 17:55:55 UTC
But don't let ME stop you.
"Dining in the Not-So-Great Outdoors"
May 30, 2010
by Mitch Albom
This weekend, the silly season begins.
Barbecues will be dragged from garages. Tables and chairs lugged to
the patio. Some of us will transport our entire refrigerator contents
to the backyard, all so we can reward ourselves, after a long hard
winter, with finally, finally, being able to eat…outside!
Just like animals do.
Let's face it. We are foolishly in love with outdoor dining. We'll
brave heat, wind, rain, or mosquitoes just to chew under the clouds.
We'll travel miles to a restaurant with "outdoor seating," even if
that "outdoors" is in the shadow of a trash dumpster. Places that have
six feet of sidewalk between their front door and the street will put
a table out front and call themselves "al fresco."
I once ate so near a parking space that a Ford Focus pulled up and
sniffed my sandwich. And yet, even with an entire restaurant full of
empty tables, people still ask, with hopeful expressions, "Do you have
Why are we so fascinated with open-air eating? Cows have been doing it
for years -- but maybe cows don't know any better. Have you ever seen
your pet dog pressed against the patio door while you're in the
kitchen? He wants in, not out.
I'm not sure when outdoor dining became fashionable. You see movies
set in 19th-century England with all those big, long tables in country
estates, and I guess that looks okay. Then again, they're in a garden,
not across from a Best Buy. And they didn't have air-conditioning. And
they had servants.
These days, of our own free will, we leave the comfort of a climate-
controlled, gently lit indoor restaurant to sit in 90-degree, humid
sunshine that makes us squint. Doesn't matter. We're outside! We'll
crane our necks to see if a waiter knows we exist. Doesn't matter.
We're outside! Wind blows the napkins to the sidewalk? We're outside!
A half-mile walk to the bathroom? We’re outside!
Now, I admit, I am guilty of this addiction, even at home. We have a
small deck off our kitchen and, since I live in Michigan, we consider
it summer as soon as the icicles melt. Out come the chairs, plates,
glasses, silverware, napkins, place mats -- and then the food. And
finally we sit. And we forgot the ice. And we go get it. And we forgot
the mustard. And we go get it. And what about a serving spoon?
And then the bees come.
None of this deters us. We trudge out every day, because outdoor
eating means we are…what? Free? Relaxed? Deranged? I actually remember
a grasshopper falling into my salad once. You would think that would
So maybe we need some rules. It's one thing if your table overlooks,
say, the ocean. Or Paris. It's another thing if you’re adjacent to an
At the very least, there ought to be a law against calling it outdoor
dining if any of these are true:
1. There's a parking meter next to your table.
2. Pedestrians actually walk behind you.
3. You can't hear due to truck noise.
4. You are struck by a bicyclist.
I once read a recommendation from someone with Martha Stewart's
magazine. He said good ideas for outdoor eating include "a summer home
for dishes" and "multiple beverage stations." I don't even know what a
beverage station is, although it sounds like a good idea. ("Hey,
buddy, fill 'er up with Diet Coke.")
The point is, eating outside is most likely an art that Martha Stewart
or folks in the English countryside understand and the rest of us
badly imitate. But, hey, it's that time of year. So enjoy yourselves.
Lug your entire fridge out there this weekend, plop yourself down,
breathe in the intoxicating air of the great outdoors.
And you forgot the ketchup.
[Best-selling author Mitch Albom is a Detroit Free Press columnist.]