Foodies dream up ways to keep patios open through the winter to support Chicago’s restaurants

Chicago News

CHICAGO — Chicago foodies are coming up with innovative ways to extend outdoor dining this winter Tuesday, after the city called for suggestions for how to prop up the restaurant industry as COVID-19 restrictions continue past the typical patio season. 

Submissions for the “Winter Design Challenge” opened last month and closed on Labor Day, and city leaders say they’re surprised by the sheer volume of entries. The 600 submissions range from igloos to greenhouses, a nest and a canopy. 

Chicago’s unforgiving winter weather will move a few short months from today, and the typical outdoor dining setup won’t be an option. City leaders say they now need to review the submissions to make sure the plans are practical, and abide by city and fire codes.  

“There have been amazing creativity in terms of what’s been submitted and we’ve gotten ideas from actually all over the world,” Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said.

Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia said he loves the out-of-the-box ideas, but stresses Chicago needs to focus on keeping COVID-19 numbers low to increase indoor dining.  

“Really, what we’d like to see is 50 percent capacity here in the city of Chicago; right now we’re at 25 percent capacity,” Toia said.

Some say the restaurant industry is the soul of our city, and this contest is just one way to support them.  

“We will get through this pandemic, we will stay the culinary capital of the U.S. and this design contest is something that makes us such a great city,” Toia said.

The city will announce three winners next month. Each will get a $5,000 cash prize, and opportunities to pilot their idea at restaurants and bars in the city.


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