A Brief History of Al Fresco Dining

Rose Truesdale



Ah, the great outdoors. To some, that means hiking, biking, and swimming… to this author, the outdoors are best served up with a bottle of rosé (or three) and a crudité platter. Of course, we’re not the first to note that al fresco dining is the best thing nature has to offer… people have been feasting en plein aire for centuries.

In Medieval Times (the historical epoch, not the dinner theater experience wherein viewers eat Cornish hens and watch fake knights fake-lance each other on horseback… that’s another blog post for another time), outdoor supping originated so hunting parties could get their snack on before setting off to take down wild beasts. These affairs typically included meat, pastry, and lots and lots of wine. Now might also be a good time to mention that the average life expectancy during this time was 35, lest you were considering the Dark Ages Diet.

Then came the picnic, the formal version of which started in America in the 18th century, when our industrious forefathers began charging families an admission to their “pleasure gardens”– essentially private gardens where families paid to stroll through beautiful surroundings and partake in ice cream cones and other portable delicacies. Post Civil War, Germany followed suit with the now beloved beer garden, and globally, the picnic basket became a must-have accessory. Meanwhile, on the wilder frontiers of the western United States, cowboys grilled their dinners outdoors during cattle drives; a practice that would later become the American barbecue… or the Australian “chop picnic.”

Today, we’re presented with a genuine smorgasbord of al fresco dining options. So whether under a cheerful awning at an outdoor café, or while serving up Memphis BBQ ribs for your pop this weekend, take a moment to relish the joy that is eating outdoors.