5) Fewer crowds and better service. Sometimes it’s not entirely relaxing to visit a restaurant in the height of snowbird season. Take, for example, one in a prime foot-traffic area, like The Continental. Because most people want a table on the courtyard, even with a reservation you could wait for up to an hour before the real fun begins. But once things calm down? One of those coveted spots is not nearly as hard to come by. Not to mention, the deft kitchen and waitstaff operate even more smoothly when not in overdrive.
4) No reservations, no problem. At places like Bar Tulia that are not on OpenTable or Resy, you probably need to say a Hail Mary if queueing up with the winter throngs. (And even at others where you can do your homework, like Baleen or The Claw Bar downtown, if you call too late, they’ve only got space at, say, 4 p.m.) Now? Zero agenda necessary: Waltz in on a whim at pretty much any restaurant, and you’re all set.
3) It’s always National Something Day. It seems like every industry and advisory board has jumped on this trending bandwagon—there’s National Hot Dog Day on July 18, National Ice Cream Day on July 21, National Peach Cobbler Day—OK, I made that last one up (but it sounds official enough, and I would get behind anybody who’d want to see it through). Eateries, such as Brooks Burgers & Dogs and Royal Scoop, jump at the chance to show off their creativity and lure you in with themed specials.
2) Deals, deals, deals! I had to write this column before most management teams figured out what their plans would be, but if they remotely resemble the patterns of years past, every week feels like Restaurant Week. There are early dining menus (Bleu Provence), sunset prix fixes (Sea Salt), family dinners (Truluck’s), BOGOs (Barbatella), free wine with entrées (Bistro 821), the happiest of happy hours (yes, please, to $5 champagne at Campiello). And some take it to a whole other level (Ridgway Bar & Grill usually has a discount or freebie each day).
1) Summer fun. Yes, it’s hot and muggy, but raise your hand if you still see these months as the quintessential time for splishing and splashing—and there are so many spots on the water to dine and drink with panache. Once the afternoon rains pass and the beach cools, I challenge you to name anything better than a Gulf-side piña toast (hello, Gumbo Limbo!). Sanibel is quieter, making it easy to justify excursions to that bastion of laidback living to take advantage of its status as a hotbed of dining activity. (Our first chef to be named a James Beard Award semifinalist holds court on the island at Sweet Melissa’s.) Boat slips at places like Coconut Jack’s in Bonita and Deep Lagoon in Fort Myers are easier to come by; Chez Boët even does a promo where you can ride a catamaran and then come in for prix fixe. And if you don’t feel like throwing your own pool party, it’s a party every day at The Boathouse in Fort Myers, where adults and kids can wade in the shallow azure between bites of coconut shrimp and crab cakes.