Where Y’Eat: New Orleans Dining Adapts to Outdoors, Even in Summer

Aug 13, 2020

When the summer sun finally slipped under a roofline, the sky was the same coral pink as the boiled shrimp on the outdoor tables at Seither’s Seafood. The bottle caps twisting off a fresh round of longneck beers sounded like a sigh of relief as the hot day mellowed into evening.

Half of the restaurant’s oyster shell parking lot is now an open-air dining area, staked with canopies and tiki torches and a crawfish boiling trailer repurposed as a small stage, where a man played a steel guitar.

Together, it all made visiting a small restaurant in the middle of suburban Harahan, and in the middle of summer, feel just a bit like a beachfront getaway.

It was also a portrait of perseverance, and how New Orleans hospitality is carrying on.  

New Orleans summer and al fresco anything can be fraught. Yet as the pandemic lengthens, many restaurants have no choice but to move outdoors, where official say risks are lower and restrictions are looser.

And so restaurants have been adapting and improvising new accommodations as rules change and seasons shift.

Tents and fans are standard. Some have artificial turf to keep the ground cooler. Elsewhere, misting lines mingle with the smoke from outdoor grills. Some restaurants have evolved dual identities – upscale inside, come-as-you-are casual outside.

The true test of any of these accommodations isn’t necessarily the heat, but those fast and furious summer downpours. That’s turning avid New Orleans diners into an amateur meteorologists, tracking rain bands and planning around windows of clear.
   
Is it normal? No, but look around you. Nothing is. Left on their own, New Orleans restaurants right now have to try anything. People who care about their role in our community can at the very least meet them halfway. So here’s to outdoor dining for our times, with the blessing of a breeze, the silver lining of a sunset and the assurance that even under a tent, we’re all in the same boat.