paris-outdoorcafestagerowFinally, it appears as if summer (or a belated spring) has arrived in much of the northern United States. Seemingly within minutes of the warmup, one of the major rites of summer occurred: all of the local restaurants opened up their outdoor dining areas. A few lucky restaurants actually have rooftop dining or a secluded back area. But for most of the restaurants, outdoor dining means a few tables placed between the sidewalk and the street.

The appeal of outdoor dining in such places remains a mystery to me. Now most of the tables have umbrellas to block the sun, and some even have a few potted plants or flowers. But the view? It’s nothing much to speak of. You can look at people walking on the sidewalk or you can look at the cars driving oh so close to you on the street, but that’s about it. And when the temperature reaches the upper 80s or higher, the heat rising up from the sidewalks combined with the exhaust from cars racing past just makes me miserable.

Now in a nice location, I’m all for eating at a restaurant’s outdoor tables. An outdoor table in the Plaka in Athens? Definitely. A table at a Santorini restaurant with a view overlooking the caldera? Without a doubt. Dining outdoors next to a body of water always appeals to me, be it an ocean, a small inland lake or a view of Lake Michigan from Navy Pier. And I’ve eaten at some lovely courtyard restaurants, most recently The Court of Two Sisters in New Orleans.

At someone’s suggestion here, I’ve also taken to eating my lunch at a park near my office in nice weather. Reading a book outdoors while eating my lunch offers a really nice break in the work day. But offered the choice between a table within a few feet of the street in my local community and a table inside with air conditioned comfort, I’ll opt for indoor dining every time.

What about you? If offered the choice at a restaurant, do you opt for indoor or outdoor dining? What amenities does the restaurant need to offer to make you opt for outdoor dining?

LinnieGayl