Monday, December 12, 2005

Open-air dining becomes less open

Patios, long a haven for restaurant libertarians, are sprouting strictures like café umbrellas. It’s happening in a relatively few markets right now. But red tape tends to spread like kudzu.

Already, the whole state of Washington has banished smoking within outdoor dining areas, unless they’re somehow set up as parking-lot islands (a law that went into effect Thursday prohibits smoking within 25 feet of doors, windows or air vents). Once the DMZ in the smoking fracas, patios could now be up for grabs. A major loophole in the bans could be drawn shut for restaurants.

Similarly, al fresco areas were once the place where restaurants could allow patrons to sip a latte with Fido without angering health authorities. But, in a skyrocketing number of places, that’s no longer kosher. Inspectors have been challenging the tradition of permitting dogs to sit with their masters in out-of-doors dining sections. They’re enforcing health codes more narrowly. A possibly example-setting attempt to change the rules was turned back in Orlando, FL, as was reported in this space a few weeks back.

Now comes news that Arizona’s Pima County might forbid restaurants to use misters, those oversized atomizer units, as a means of cooling guests while they dine al fresco. The measure is being eyed as a way to realize the water-conservation goals that were set in place for the county by a 2001 plan.

Smoking refuse-niks have boasted about flouting the law in sympathetic sneak-easies, which will allow them to light up as long as no one raises a ruckus. We foresee a rash of misters being toted to Arizona’s outdoor dining areas come summer. And may rainbows not give away any restaurant offenders.

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