After what has been a long dark winter, today's the much anticipated day that hospitality has been waiting for. The doors, well the outdoors at least, are flung open for the first step of hospitality reopening in the UK ahead of indoor dining on 17th May, road map permitting.
Some venues have invested vast amounts of money to accommodate guests outside with all manner of covered terraces, streetside, kerbside, outdoor dining pods and makeshift indoor/outdoor eating areas. Many have become quite elaborate, with open grills, hearths and pizza ovens. For some, this will become a permanent extension of the revenue stream. For local government, there's potentially an opportunity to re-energise towns and cities with outdoor eating areas.
We believe that this desire to eat outside is here to stay as we've discovered a new appreciation for the outdoors which runs beyond pandemic and hot summer days. So when considering the opportunity around eating food outside, the context is really important.
It's well known that being amongst the natural elements can improve our mood and mental health. Biophilia is the theory that humans have an innate affinity for nature and that human productivity, levels of relaxation and creativity surge when surrounded by the natural world and plants. We're more in touch with our senses when we're in and around nature and the outside world. This also means when you eat outside, your body is benefiting from fresh air and light - something that we've all been deprived of over the last year or so. And we often crave what we can't have.
Many people don't eat outside more than just occasionally, therefore, food just tastes better when they do because they're out in the fresh air, in touch with their senses and it feels slightly exotic, almost liberating. Eating outside is often positively associated with occasion, whether that's a family barbecue during the warmer months, picnic in the park or fish and chips by the sea.
When we eat outdoors, it's usually defined as a special occasion - it's fun, it's a break from the norm, and so we perceive our food with greater excitement!
The appreciation of the experience of eating outside is coloured by many things including, smell, anticipation, theatre, temperature, context and even childhood memories and gratitude. It's important to consider the suitability and design of menu items - the experience of ordering, serving and consuming them in an alfresco environment. With the cold spell set to continue, weatherproofing is also a key consideration with reports of a run on hot water bottles and blankets to keep diners warm as well as dry!
Personally, the best food, I've ever eaten was probably all indoors, but some of the best experiences I've had around food were eating outdoors. Something to think about, as we see outdoor and alfresco eating coming into its own over the next few months as part of the route from lockdown. Charles Banks, tfp co-founder