The backyard patio at West on North (Lenny Gilmore/RedEye )
It's that time of year again, when we strip down to as little clothing as we can stand, and eat and drink outside as frequently as humanly possible. Patio season is upon us!
It seems like every other restaurant is offering some kind of outdoor seating, and I could not be more OK with this. The only thing better than unlimited mimosas is unlimited mimosas outside because duh.
That said, here are some tips from a restaurant veteran to get you through patio season.
Most patios are smoke-free.
Most restaurant patios are considered extensions of the restaurant itself, so smoking is not allowed within 15 feet of food service areas. That means no hanging your lit cigarette over the patio barrier and calling it good. That's tacky and you know better.
Dogs are generally not allowed.
The thing about Chicago is that everything fun in this city also has 1 million permits associated with it, and patios are no different. If you want to bring your dog, you had better make sure the place has a dog-friendly license. Even then, licensed restaurants can provide only water for dogs and are in no way responsible for your dog's behavior or hair or whatever. Some places are very dog-friendly, but most aren't.
Let the restaurant staff rearrange patio furniture for you.
If the only table available isn't big enough for your group, don't steal chairs from other tables and try to make it work. Generally, tables on a patio are set up in such a way that a) allows for a fire exit, and b) allows for patrons and servers to move freely. Check with the restaurant; they'll definitely try to accommodate your group, but let them move the furniture around for you.
Patio hours are different than regular restaurant or bar hours.
Patios close earlier than the restaurant itself, so last call at 11:30 (or whatever time) means the patio has to be clear of people by midnight. You're free to keep drinking (and eating, if the kitchen's open) inside.
Let other people have a turn at patio dining.
If you're lucky enough to snag a patio table during some prime "go out to dinner" hours, make sure to share the wealth. Have dinner (or lunch or brunch or whatever). Have drinks. Have a lovely time. And then let someone else enjoy the same experience.
Remember that you're still at a restaurant.
Eating and drinking outside is awesome, especially in a city that blesses us with a few months of glorious weather before getting really cold and dumping a foot of snow on us. We like to make the most of this weather, and we damn well should, but that's no excuse to treat a restaurant like it's an extension of the party you threw in your backyard the weekend before. Have an awesome time, but remember to be an adult too.
Don't get discouraged.
Patio seats in Chicago can be hard to come by, but don't be afraid to broaden your horizons. Try a place you haven't been. Go to a new place in your neighborhood before it gets too trendy and packed. Have a super early dinner at an off-peak hour. And most importantly, don't give up. An amazing dinner in Chicago is even more amazing when you get to enjoy it outside.
RedEye special contributor Stacey Andeen is a Chicago bartender.
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