The Outdoor Dining Etiquette You Need To Abide By This Summer

Dining al fresco is a rite of passage during the warmer months. Grabbing an outdoor or al fresco meal is not only delicious and often entertaining, but it can also be good for you. Enjoying some apps, entrées, drinks, and more with a side of fresh air is truly a relaxing experience. Being able to escape stuffy buildings, even for a few hours, and spend time in nature or a different environment is often a welcomed reprieve. And the same can be said if you happen to be sharing some tasty eats near water — the added ambiance is practically mood-altering.

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Of course, savoring a light bite with friends against a bustling city backdrop, seaside, atop a roof, or at a hidden gem restaurant anywhere in the open air comes with several strongly suggested rules. Table manners when eating at restaurants, regardless of seating, are important and don't just go out the window because you're outside. However, when it comes to dining alfresco, there are a number of caveats to keep in mind. Thus, to ensure you don't spoil the experience for yourself or others, let's go over the outdoor dining etiquette you need to abide by this summer.

Dress for the occasion

Whether you are stopping for lunch, exploring, or simply meeting up with other hungry people, dressing for the occasion is just good form. In general, dining outside usually means no air conditioning and exposure to the elements. So, if it is a warm and sunny day, make sure you are prepared for an hour or so of sitting outdoors — lightweight clothing, hats, scarves, sunglasses, and SPF are lifesavers on gorgeous summer days. A light jacket may also come in handy on cooler days or if you are eating later in the evening.

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Of course, if the forecast calls for rain, consider an eatery that has covered or partially covered outdoor seating, or make reservations for a more weather-appropriate day — as one cannot really dress for eating in the rain. Most patios and restaurants with outdoor seating tend to close these areas when it starts to rain, so wearing a rain jacket or bringing your umbrella won't really help you here. And, for patrons on a summer holiday, unless you are at the beach or a poolside restaurant, bathing suits and a lack of shoes are typically frowned upon at the table. Thus, summer smart casual is highly recommended for the majority of waterfront dining.

Show up on time

Besides dressing for the occasion, showing up on time is another unspoken outdoor dining etiquette rule to keep in mind this summer. With warm weather afoot, popular establishments that offer outside seating tend to book up quickly, and some even have a rather lengthy waiting list. So, assuming your table will be held for the customary 15 minutes might not be the best move, especially on weekends and at new or popular restaurants. Moreover, when booking a restaurant for alfresco dining, you will likely have a larger party. Most restaurants will not seat you unless your entire party is present, so try to make sure everyone shows up on time.

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Additionally, for trendy summer patios, try making reservations during non-rush times — between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. (if they are open) or later in the evening after 8:30 p.m., if possible. Not only are you more likely to be able to snag a table, but your 15-minute grace period is also more likely to be honored. During the day (not on weekends), mid-afternoon tends to be the slowest time for most restaurants. Plus, late-night reservations tend to come with lower temps and a lack of blazing sunlight, which is a nice reprieve on super hot days. Note: If you do show up on time but no one is around to seat you, you should wait to be seated or look for assistance — grabbing an open table just because you see one is also considered poor form.

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Keep the volume down

Once seated, practicing proper summer outdoor dining etiquette also means keeping the volume done. Being considerate of other diners and your surrounding environment is simply courteous behavior. Of course, you might need to raise your voice a bit at bustling patios with loud music or at establishments located in the heart of a popular downtown district. But screaming across the table, yelling, laughing loudly, rambling on non-stop, and even being overtly intoxicated are mealtime transgressions you do not want to be guilty of.

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Likewise, taking a phone or video call at the table is uncouth, no matter where you happen to be dining. In louder-than-average or even relaxing environments, it is best to excuse yourself from the table and take your call away from other patrons and the rest of your party — that is, if you absolutely need to talk to the person who's calling. And remember, it is proper etiquette to find somewhere that is more suitable to speak, which is generally not just in front of the entire patio or outdoor seating area.

Respect the staff

There is really no reason to be rude to the restaurant staff — they are just doing their job and often do not have control over common diner pet peeves, especially when it comes to dining outdoors. For instance, being rude to the staff because you expect them to get you seated sooner without a reservation or somehow change the weather (expecting them to make it cooler on the patio, less sunny, or to stop the sudden downpour) is nonsensical. That said, being kind to the host, waiter, and the staff in general is the best way to ensure good service and a good time. Plus, it shows you have good manners and is likely to earn you some bonus points if you happen to be on a first or hot summer date.

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Nonetheless, should an issue arise during your alfresco meal, it is perfectly acceptable to politely ask for the manager for a major problem like undercooked meats, bad service, or other serious dilemmas that are very well within the staff's control. When reporting an issue with your meal or service, you should still be as respectful as possible to everyone involved. Generally, most service industry workers and restaurant staff are gladly willing to go above and beyond for friendly, courteous patrons.

Wait with grace

Outdoor summer dining is a beloved pastime for many people. As a result, dinner establishments with patios, rooftop bars, and outdoor seating tend to get pretty busy when the weather is nice, so it is important to keep that in mind. Even though you may be hangry, proper dining etiquette dictates that you should wait with grace. Whether you are waiting to be seated, want to put in your summer cocktail drink order and appetizers ASAP, or are simply awaiting your meal, try to be patient.

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Restaurants do not always have a full team working their patio or outdoor seating area. So, having a lull between the time you were seated and the time it took for someone to come by to assist you is not uncommon. Patrons, therefore, should avoid flagging down someone if it has only been a few minutes. Likewise, if you order something extra special from the bar or add several substitutions to your entrée, this will probably increase how long you have to wait to get your food. Usually, dining alfresco in the summer is not a rushed affair, so you should expect some of that seasonal leisureliness to be part of the overall experience.

Order first

It can be tempting to exchange pleasantries with your meal companions immediately once you are seated. Maybe you want to discuss your upcoming summer plans, discuss work, or talk about the weather, whatever the topic — but first thing is first, figure out what you want to eat before you get deep into conversation. All too often a server will come to take the table's order only to find patrons are engrossed in chit-chat and have not even looked at the drink menu yet.

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But, at a busy outdoor patio, a rooftop lounge, or a highly coveted waterfront café, chatting up your table-mate before perusing the menu is a summer alfresco dining blunder — one that may very well delay every meal course. Thus, it is highly recommended that you at least glance at the menus so you can promptly get your drink and appetizer order in as soon as you can. It also doesn't hurt to get your entire order ready either, especially if there is a lot of you dining alfresco. This will save both you and the server precious time during your dinner experience.

Mind your table manners

After ordering, the moment you have been patiently waiting for will soon arrive, but before digging into your food, don't forget your manners. Table etiquette rules still apply even when enjoying a bite to eat outside, especially if it is not a DIY summer picnic. This means using the correct cutlery, chewing with your mouth closed, keeping your elbows off the table, and asking for items to be passed to you rather than reaching across the table.

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When savoring a meal alfresco, it is natural to feel as though you are in a relaxed setting. However, patrons should demonstrate the same manners they would inside — outside. Therefore, avoid kicking back and taking off your shoes, scarfing down your food before anyone else has taken a bite, eating most of the shareables without sharing, or even thinking about observing the five-second rule. It is also worth noting that in destinations around the world, what is considered proper form or manners for indoor and alfresco dining varies a bit. So, if you are off to faraway places, take the time to brush up on the differences. That said, for the most part, being courteous and exercising good dining habits are truly universal.

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Practice proper napkin etiquette

Speaking of good dining habits, another outdoor dining summer must is practicing proper napkin etiquette. With basic and advanced napkin protocols, there is more than one way to place and use your napkin. But since this is alfresco dining, you might not necessarily know what the napkins situation is like until you arrive. Some outdoor patios have a paper napkin dispenser on the table or provide cutlery wrapped in a paper napkin. In contrast, the majority of fancy outdoor establishments provide you with a cloth or traditional linen napkin.

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If you are provided with a high-quality paper or cloth napkin, then placing the napkin on your lap and using it to dab your mouth, when necessary, is customary at most restaurants. For more upscale alfresco experiences, the server may be the one to place the napkin on your lap for you, but otherwise you blot, not wipe, your mouth all the same. With everyday-style or your run-of-the-mill small paper napkins, place them to the left of your fork or under your cutlery when not using. And if your napkin gets blown away by the wind or falls on the ground, do not retrieve or reuse it — explain to a staff member that you need a new napkin. Overall, napkins of any quality should only be used for eating purposes. So, if you need to blow your nose or do anything else, go to the bathroom and use the appropriate paper products provided by the restaurant.

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Appreciate the outdoors

Along with a potential gust of wind blowing your napkin away, enjoying a meal alfresco in the summertime comes with a few other possible antics. For example, weather can and does change on a dime, so patrons should pay close attention to the weather while dining. If your meal gets rained out, there is a strong possibility that you may have to cut your losses if there is no available seating inside.

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In addition to possible weather changes, getting a bite to eat outside undoubtedly comes with its share of, well, outdoorsyness. Thus, one cannot really be upset if their delicious food attracts a winged visitor or two. Similarly, when establishments offer outside seating, more often than not, patrons with pups like to check these kinds of places out. Of course, not every outdoor restaurant allows dogs, but some do. If you just so happened to be at one and you love dogs, then by all means, go over and say hello — just make sure you ask to pet the dog first. It is also proper form to make sure you are finished with your meal before playing with nearby dogs — or wash your hands before resuming your meal to avoid an extra side of germs.

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Dine promptly

On beautiful summer days and star-filled nights, it can be very tempting to dine at your leisure. But outdoor dining rules dictate that you cannot sit there all day or all night, unfortunately. Not only are there likely other patrons waiting for your table or prime seating, but the restaurant likely has set hours for lunch and dinner service. Plus, late-night dining establishments often do not stay open well past the last call for their kitchen or at the bar. Therefore, when partaking in a lovely summer meal outside, try not to exceed the two-hour mark, if possible.

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What's more, these days, a number of dinner spots are setting time limits, and this practice is increasingly becoming the norm. Now, quite a few eateries all over the world only allow patrons around 90 minutes to enjoy their dining experience. So, if you made reservations that come with a table time limit, then be aware, good form or not, you may be asked to leave after your allotted time is up.

Tip at least 18% or more

If you are making reservations stateside, then it is customary to tip the staff, especially for larger parties. Often, the gratuity will be included in the bill. But if you have a smaller group or the gratuity is not already on your large party bill, then make sure you tip a minimum of 18%. With the cost of everything going up these days, a little more than that is a nice gesture, and if you received top-notch service while dining outdoors, then you should definitely try to tip more than 18%.

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On the other hand, for roaming foodies off to other countries, most destinations do not require or expect tipping. Once again, either a service fee has already been added to the check or you have jetsetted off to the land of no tipping. So, if you are out there somewhere in the world sipping Aperol spritzers, nibbling on small plates, and appreciating the stunning views from the comfort of your outdoor seating this summer, then how much you need to tip should be the furthest thing from your mind.

Enjoy yourself

With so many rules and regulations, you may feel like you cannot simply enjoy yourself while eating outdoors. But abiding by these minor summer outdoor dining details is actually less likely to ruin your meal experience. In fact, following these rules mentioned above and other dining etiquette, in all likelihood, will improve the overall quality of your summertime outing.

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Ultimately, patio and rooftop season is short-lived in most places and, therefore, is worth savoring while you can. So, whether you are partaking in a lovely alfresco dinner with friends and family or enjoying date night with your partner in the fresh open air this summer, why not make the most of it? As mentioned, demonstrating good dining habits and being respectful of everyone you come in contact with, including the members of your dinner party, the waitstaff, and other patrons, can easily be accomplished with little to no effort at all.

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