Patio time: a history of eating outdoors
By Brandon Yip, Senior Columnist
For much of history, having outdoor meals was an activity exclusively for the rich.
During the pandemic, BC residents have been advised by Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, to stay home to help reduce the rise in COVID-19 cases in the province. In March 2021, Dr. Henry made an amendment to the restrictions allowing people to gather outdoors with no more than 10 people.
The CBC reported on March 29 that BC once again implemented further restrictions banning indoor dining in restaurants, group fitness, and worship services in effect from March 29 till April 19. All establishments serving food and alcohol must pivot to takeout or delivery service. Although indoor dining has been suspended, patios remain open. People who dine on patios should do so with their immediate household (core bubble) only.
Speaking of patios, the evolution and appeal of patios are one of the simplest pleasures to enjoy—especially when the weather is nice and sunny. According to Craig Zola, in an article published on herculite.com, the history of patios and outdoor dining can be traced back to the Middle Ages. It was here that lords in their leisure time hunted for sport later partook in hunting feasts. Predominantly for much of history, having outdoor meals was an activity exclusively for the rich. During the 18th century, wealthy Americans paid money to be seated in private gardens to enjoy numerous outdoor treats. It was only in the Victorian era that picnics became another common form of outdoor eating across class boundaries.
During that era, people for the most part had to bring their food. However, that would change in the early 1900s in the Brooklyn, New York neighbourhood of Coney Island. It was here that a seaside restaurant ignited the trend of buying food and eating it outdoors after the invention of the hot dog. Afterwards, many food vendors began offering outdoor seating especially in popular tourist areas like Coney Island.
Interestingly, Chris Bateman, in his 2015 article about patios for spacing says New York’s St. Moritz On-The-Park opened a European-style outdoor seating area in the 1950s considered the city’s first sidewalk café. Also, the Chateau Briand, a French-themed café with outdoor seating opened in July 1960 in Toronto—the city’s first patio. It only lasted three years, as it was replaced by the Sidewalk Café at 34 College Street opening in 1963.
Although, Bateman claims there were ice cream and milkshake stands in Toronto in the 1920s that “offered patrons outdoor seating (even during the winter) […] and there are pictures of bundled up men hunching over warm cups of coffee during the frigid winter in the city archives.”
Zola states that today, there is an entire culture that has been created surrounding outdoor dining. This ranges from luxurious rooftop restaurants to popular beer gardens. People appear to enjoy the outdoor patio experience, whether it is savouring the outdoor experience that contains a unique atmosphere, or mainly just to get fresh air.
Although enjoying patios under the current provincial health restrictions is not the same experience before the pandemic, people can still enjoy the restricted patio experience and try to make the best of it (with the same household bubble). But it appears the best part of a patio is that it is the perfect setting to unite friends and family who can sit together and eat and drink while enjoying the hot weather and a beautiful sunset. Perhaps a quote by Kurt Vonnegut best describes why patios are indeed one of life’s simplest pleasures: “Enjoy the little things in life because one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things.”