No more bars? Americans embracing grilling, eating outdoors during pandemic

NEW YORK — Are bars a thing of the past thanks to COVID-19? One in two Americans would rather catch up with friends over a happy hour picnic than at a crowded bar after the pandemic, according to a new study.

A survey of 2,000 Americans reveals the outdoor dining craze may be here to stay, with three in five people taking up cooking and eating outside since March 2020.

Outdoor dining becoming a cultural ‘lifesaver’

Outdoor EatingOf those dining al fresco, seven in 10 went so far as to call their outdoor adventures a “total lifesaver” when it comes to keeping things upbeat during the pandemic. That doesn’t mean taking the dining room out of the house is a seamless transition, though. Nearly two in three (63%) confessed it took a few tries (and mistakes) to master eating outdoors.

The survey, conducted by OnePoll on behalf of the American Lamb Board, also finds the most common outdoor culinary mishaps include forgotten ingredients, over or undercooked food, and dropping meals.

There’s no question the thought of eating outside was not exactly groundbreaking stuff pre-pandemic. Now, 47 percent said their bar for what they consider an adventure is considerably lower than it was in March 2020. Respondents said experiences like taking a hike, walking around the neighborhood, or learning to use Zoom are now “adventurous” experiences for them over the past 12 months.

Getting back in touch with nature

Cooking a new dish tops the list of now-thrilling experiences. Watching a new TV show and taking “the long way” home also makes it into the top five as well. Taking the long way home may have also helped respondents find a new appreciation for the natural beauty around them. Forty-four percent admit they haven’t spent this much time outdoors since they were children.

Nearly three in five Americans (58%) have discovered a new-found love for nature because of the pandemic and that’s had some other positive effects. All the time in the outdoors made half the poll realize that they really need to slow down and “smell the roses” more often.

“That feeling of cooking something for the first time or trying a new recipe that is a bit outside your comfort zone can be exhilarating. It’s clear from the data that eating outside has been a bright spot during this challenging time; whether it was the ability to safely gather outside around a meal or a favorite dish cooked outside, it’s wonderful to think about how much a simple meal amid nature has meant to people,” says Megan Wortman, executive director of the American Lamb Board, in a statement.

Americans are rediscovering their love of barbecue

Outdoor EatingRespondents have been reaching back into their childhoods to conjure up activities that will bring them joy. Three in four (75%) said the smell of barbecue brings back happy memories. It’s no surprise then that grilling outside comes in as the top cooking activity Americans are trying during COVID.

While beef and chicken topped the list for respondents’ favorite foods to grill up, some aren’t afraid to get creative with their barbecue creations. Everything from vegetables to lamb to fruit made the list of top ten “grillable” foods. Three in 10 Americans (31%) also consider lamb the most adventurous food, with mangos and sushi following close behind.

“People seem to have the right idea—combining nature and a great meal—to feed their adventurous side,” Wortman adds. “The most important thing when cooking outside though is to just have fun and savor the time with your friends over a great meal!”

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