Welcome to Dining Dilemmas, an OpenTable column that aims to address the thornier sides of dining out. What’s with surcharges? How do we eat with a mask on? Are straws totally taboo? Check back for answers to these questions and more about the way we eat now.
Thanks to restaurants, this year’s holiday season doesn’t have to be any less festive. Sure, celebrations may need to be downsized or outside, but there are still myriad ways to celebrate special occasions right now. Whether for birthdays, holidays, or even just making it to Friday, many restaurants are going the extra mile to offer creative takeout and unique experiences that make smaller celebrations just as special, at home or otherwise. Read on to find out how to take advantage.
Bring the celebration to you
Takeout is great for any old night, but there are plenty of ways to step it up for something special. From meal kits to tasting menus, dressed-up takeout, all available on OpenTable, can feel as fancy as a big night out.
For an interactive activity, meal kits are fun and different. A lot of restaurants are offering ways to make their meals at home, such as at The Dearborn in Chicago, where uncooked pizza dough and toppings can transform your home to a night in Italy. Steakhouses are also often selling their raw product, which is several steps up from what’s available at the grocery store, such as at Benjamin Steakhouse Prime in New York City with its porterhouses, burger patties, filet mignon, and more.
Or get something that’s practically impossible to make at home, such as Peking duck or an entire tasting menu. At Shanghai Terrace in Chicago, an entire traditional slow roasted duck with tender meat and crispy skin comes to your home accompanied by Mandarin pancakes, cucumber, scallion, and hoisin & plum sauce. And at August (1) Five in San Francisco, vegetarian and non-vegetarian tasting menus for two include a feast of items such as samosa, paneer kebab, potato and fig kofta, naan, raita, toffee pudding, and more. Both are decadent meals that bring the feeling of a restaurant experience home.
If you’re feeding your entire pod squad, to-go family-style meals and drinks are an easy go-to. Barbecue is always special, since it’s a labor of love over many hours, so something like The Pig and the Pearl in Atlanta’s family brisket or pulled pork packs with sides are perfect for celebrations. Wash it all down with professionally made cocktails, which many restaurants are selling in bulk these days, like with Ben Paris in Seattle’s quart of passion fruit rum punch.
To really mark the moment and make all these meals feel super special, try something revolutionary: give your coffee table a break and head to the dining room to eat.
Have a unique experience
If you’d rather celebrate at a restaurant, OpenTable’s Experiences — a collection of exciting new ways to take part in unique restaurant events beyond standard reservations, such as tasting menus or special offers — are your answer. While dining at a restaurant table is special on its own these days, on occasions that need some more oomph, check out Experiences available on OpenTable near you.
Standout ones available this holiday season include breakfast with Santa at Valencia in Orlando, fancy afternoon tea at St. Regis in Washington D.C., and ugly sweater lunch at Dickie Brennan’s in New Orleans, holiday movie nights at Beach House Grill in San Diego, and holiday photo shoots at Lucille at Drury Lane in Chicago.
Then there are endless themed tasting menus, such as coursed dinners paired with whiskey at 71 Saint Peter in San Jose, cocktail tastings at Table 45 in Cleveland, and Christmas Eve meals, like at Pazzo! Cucina Italiana’s Feast of the Seven Fishes in Naples, Florida.
Experiences are the go-to when it comes to next-level holiday dining, with hundreds around the United States and Canada like the ones above.
Head outdoors for festivities
Ingenuity and creativity are on full display at many restaurants’ winter outdoor dining set-ups. Beyond heaters and entirely new streetside structures, restaurants have set up truly innovative al fresco seating.
At restaurants in Denver, Long Island, New York City, and Boston, igloos have taken over the streets. These private settings offer shelter from the colder weather, while still providing a safe place to dine outside that feels special. Firepits have also become common, such as at Amaya in San Diego and Rooftop at Providence G in Providence, Massachusetts that have diners plenty warm while dining outside.
Seats at creative set-ups across the U.S. and Canada like these are all available for booking right on OpenTable and can uplevel any occasion. Simply search for a table using the outdoor seating filter to see what’s near you that’ll make celebrations as festive as possible right now.