When we say, “going out to eat,” what we really mean is dining in — indoors, where we are sheltered and snug with ambient lighting and temperature controls, free from humidity, insects, rain, wind, snow and bitter cold, depending on the season. The American dining experience had long been a study in comfort and entertainment more than mere nourishment and socialization.

It’s part of a larger trend; as a society we’ve become indoor cats. A 2019 study by the Outdoor Foundation found that nearly half of all Americans do not participate in any outdoor recreation, while only 17.9 percent even go outside at least once a week.

Maybe we needed to learn to suffer a bit when it comes to “dining out.”

Indoor dining restrictions at the start of the pandemic led to the near collapse of the restaurant industry as a whole, from lags in revenue to layoffs and the shuttering of many establishments — as many as 17 percent of all restaurants. (Either restaurants were not as quick to pivot to take-out and our “new normal” for dining out as we think — or perhaps it was us that couldn’t adapt.)

It seems that we just do not like to be uncomfortable or inconvenienced.

The romance and appeal of outdoor dining still seems to apply only to fair-weather days here in the U.S.

The ideal of discomfort when it comes to eating is not inherently foreign to Americans: We have food festivals dedicated to spicy foods and competitive eating events; we eat outdoors at concerts and fairs and ball games. But the willingness to eat al fresco has not permeated the menued restaurants, let alone fine dining — and, amid the pandemic, it caused our restaurants to suffer.

Indoor seating restrictions in restaurants helped curb the spread of the virus. Cities across the country relaxed outdoor drinking and dining regulations to allow makeshift patio spaces. Sidewalks, parking lots and even street parking spaces became extensions of restaurants’ dining rooms; some municipalities barricaded entire blocks to allow for socially distanced gathering spaces. Restaurants with any room to grow poured money into decks, patios and pea-gravel picnic areas.

There was a run on patio heaters, fire pits, portable gazebos and sailcloth-style tents to keep diners safe from the elements. Some restaurants got innovative, offering an indoor-outdoor hybrid approach through plastic domes akin to igloos or modified greenhouses, even though studies showed that viruses could breed in those settings as easily as in regular indoor dining.

After a year, all of the innovation does not appear to have changed our collective perspective on going out to eat: More attention is placed on reopening restaurants at their pre-COVID capacities than on reopening public schools.

Maybe we needed to learn to suffer a bit when it comes to “dining out.”

The romance and appeal of outdoor dining still seems to apply only to fair-weather days here in the U.S. The biergartens of Germany, the cafés of France and al fresco tables in Italy and Spain are year-round experiences, offered regardless of a chill or some drizzle. Sidewalk dining in the Caribbean and South America is intrinsic to food culture there as a whole, much like it is in some Asian countries.

Americans are softer, less hardy that way.

One of the few dining sectors to benefit from the pandemic was food trucks, after some restaurateurs chose to go entirely mobile and others added a truck or cart to complement existing businesses. Both helped to grow food trucks into a $2.7 billion industry, according to the industry publication Food Truck Operator.

Regardless, the long-term success of outdoor dining is less about what a restaurant can do and more about the mentality of diners. Saving restaurants requires more than government money; it requires a willingness for governments to relax the over-regulation of outdoor dining and for the rest of us to embrace all-season dining out.

As the saying goes, there is no bad weather, only the wrong footwear. Maybe there are no bad dining conditions then, only our inability to dress appropriately for the season at hand.