Unless you’ve spent the past couple of weeks holed up in your house/condo/apartment, you know that season is here. And in a BIG way.
I’ve only been living in Sarasota for the past 20 years, so there are plenty of people with a ton more experience on this topic than me. But it just seems that every year the arrival of “season” inches a touch earlier and is a little more sudden.
You’ve seen this play out. The traffic picks up slowly, then WHAM it is fully on. For those of us living here, driving can be a pain. But I’m sure it’s just as painful if you’re a visitor to sunny Sarasota. You can either take the “I’ll get there when I get there” attitude, or you can be one step away from blowing a gasket for two months. I’ll take the former approach. It just seems less stressful (and less dangerous!).
Season brings with it a set of unique challenges. I’m not here to solve all your season-related problems, but I am here to help with one very specific one. The restaurant situation. I say “situation” because that is exactly what it is.
We all need to eat, whether we are here full-time, part-time, or sometime. It’s just a basic thing. Now, you can avoid the restaurant situation very easily. Just eat in every meal. Does that sound as horrible reading it as it did writing it? It’s just boring.
If you’re a vacationer, one of the reasons you probably chose Sarasota is because of our vibrant restaurant and dining community. Yes, I know there is that big sandy thing called Siesta Key Beach. But like I mentioned above, you’re going to have to eat.
If you’re traveling with children, the eating thing becomes more important than if it’s just adults. Starving children are generally unhappy children. If you don’t want to end up as part of some viral video in which a table of kids completely loses it at the restaurant, you’ll need to keep them fed.
If you’ve been here during March/April in years past, I don’t have to tell you what the lines will be like at most places in town. They are long. And they can be intimidating. They can overwhelm even the most veteran travelers. We’re going to attempt to break down a few ways to tame this restaurant situation. Some of these tips may seem obvious. We’re not going to give you some magic wand to make those two-hour waits melt away (although that would be nice, wouldn’t it?). I just don’t want to get your hopes up only to have them trampled by Sarasota season reality.
Just a note. If you live here, you mostly know how to navigate our busy season dining scene. These hints are mostly for the less experienced Sarasota visitor.
MAKE A RESERVATION – Why does this seem SO obvious? This is going to take a bit of planning on your part. But believe me, it’ll be worth it in the long run. There are a ton of places in town that take reservations for dinner. Lunch or breakfast is a different story. But when it comes to dinner, you can usually make a reservation at places in all price ranges. Make those reservations BEFORE you come here. You can always change them as necessary. Just remember to cancel any reservation that you’re not going to be able to use. Restaurants hate no-shows. And with good reason. They are trying to seat and serve as many people as possible on a busy season night. A reservation is a promise on your end. Try to keep it.
OpenTable.com says that they have reservation listings for 400+ Sarasota area restaurants. That is a lot of choices! We’ll give you a link to the site at the end of this piece. For a lot of local restaurants, you can make a reservation directly through the restaurant's website.
Unfortunately, it seems places that are more kid/family-friendly tend to be mostly first come first served. Think about bringing something to occupy your kid's time during that wait. You don’t want them dismantling and redecorating the restaurant before you’re seated.
ORDER IN – Delivery is now a real thing. It’s not just for pizza and Chinese cuisine anymore. But I know that you know that. You might not want to order in for all of your meals, but one or two could be doable. Especially if you’ve got little ones that aren’t yet gourmet eaters.
EAT EARLY OR LATE – If you’ve got a bunch of elementary age kids, the early option is great. Get in and get out before the crush at 6:45PM starts. Or, if you’ve got a few in your group that are older, an 8PM dinner time might work out just fine. Beach, shower, a little hang out time, and then on to dinner! The time change this year is on Sunday, March 13th at 2AM, so keep that in mind. That means the sunset will happen at about 7:30PM instead of 6:30PM.
SOME RANDOM THOUGHTS/ADVICE - A lot of places that don’t take reservations have now gone to a cell phone notification system. This definitely makes the wait a lot less painful. It might still be two hours. But at least you’re not chained to the front door. You give them your name and cell number. They’ll message you when your table is ready. Feel free to do whatever until you get notified. Just remember you’ll probably have to be back at the check-in desk within five to ten minutes of your notification, or you’ll lose your spot in line.
Some restaurants have a “call ahead” system. You call, put your name on the waiting list, and they give you an approximate time your table will be ready. Many of the restaurants will require that you be on your way to the restaurant to be put on the list.
If there is no call ahead system, you can improvise that. If you’re staying close, send one member of your party down to the restaurant to put your name on the list. Then just have them message you when you're getting close to the top of the list. Remember though that most restaurants will not seat you unless all of the members of your party are there, so you’ll have to stay on top of it.
Yes, season in Sarasota can be hectic. Especially if you’re dining out every day. It doesn’t have to be super stressful though. A little planning and a healthy dose of patience will go a long way at this time of year!
Here are links to some resources that we think can help make navigating the dining scene a little less treacherous.
Here are some upcoming local food events that we think you might find interesting. All you need to do is make that reservation. We’ve provided you a link to more info.