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Where Y’Eat: In Spring, New Orleans Flocks to Outdoor Dining

Outdoor dining at Seither's Seafood in Harahan, Louisiana.
Ian McNulty
Outdoor dining at Seither's Seafood in Harahan, Louisiana.

You’ve heard the line that in Louisiana the four seasons are really oyster, crawfish, crab and shrimp, or maybe it’s football season, Carnival season, festival season and try to get out of town in the summer season.

But in New Orleans there is also another season that plays out specifically at restaurants, and that’s outdoor dining season. We are right now in its prime.

As soon as the weather turns nicer in New Orleans, the requests for outdoor dining recommendations start flying my way like migratory birds returning home for the season. Lately, the flock of possible options has grown tremendously and deepened in variety.

Once the possibilities were largely contained to the classic French Quarter courtyard, maybe a balcony, possibility the front porch on an old house converted into a restaurant. But now the search for an outdoor table leads through evermore variegated patios and beer gardens and repurposed open-air urban spaces, with all those roll-down garage doors, sun canopies and overhead string lights, which are to this generation what the candle-mounted Chianti bottle was to the last.

Among them are restaurants where outdoor dining is not an amenity but the main act, and in many cases their sole reason for being.

These trends were firmly in place when the pandemic arrived and greatly accelerated it all. In uncharted times, many restaurants that had never considered outdoor dining gave it a shot. For some, the outdoor tables went away as soon as they could seat more people inside.

But for many others the experience sparked a lasting change. They found customers do indeed respond to the year-round appeal of the outdoors, even in a city where the weather can snap from swelter to deluge, and they’ve built in more accommodations and management tactics around it, changing the landscape of local dining along the way.

This is the time of year we want to last forever in New Orleans, though we know its fleeting. It’s a time to recharge, to fill our New Orleans batteries for all that may sap them later. A pleasant spell with the right company at a restaurant table does that for me. That’s why right now, I think the best seats in the house are outside.

Ian covers food culture and dining in New Orleans through his weekly commentary series Where Y’Eat.