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Chicago asks residents for ideas on extending outdoor dining through the winter

The city is holding a $5,000 contest to encourage unorthodox thinking.
Fulton Market
Photograph: Shutterstock

Chicago is asking its residents to brainstorm ways that local restaurants can safely continue to offer outdoor dining after winter hits.  

Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Tuesday that the Windy City will hold a design contest with a $5,000 prize for whoever uncorks the best solution. Winning entries need not only address the possibility of frigid temperatures, but also the social-distancing and other safety protocols that have been imposed on eating and drinking places to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Those requirements were stiffened Tuesday by a directive from Gov. Jay Pritzker that requires all restaurant patrons in the state to wear masks specifically while they’re interacting with servers. 

Chicago’s Winter Design Challenge is being undertaken in collaboration with the Illinois Restaurant Association (IRA), the design firm Ideo and BMO Harris Bank. It will run from Aug. 25 through Sept. 7.

About 300 local eating and drinking establishments added sidewalk table service after Lightfoot gave a go-ahead in May for restaurants to use city property for additional seating. Indoor seating is capped at 25% of interior capacity, or 50 patrons in total.

“While we’ve had to implement restrictions and take hard measures to combat a recent rise in COVID-19 activity, we will continue to ensure our restaurants, bars and businesses have the supports they need to survive during these unprecedented times,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “We are asking our community members to come together and think creatively about how we can make outdoor dining feasible in the winter.”   

Added Sam Toia, CEO of the IRA: “Our restaurants and bars are the heart and soul of the city, and we must do everything possible to keep them operational during the harsh winter months. We need out-of-the-box thinking.”

Chicago is one of the areas that has seen an upsurge in new COVID-19 cases after flattening the curve. Lightfoot has refused to expand indoor dining capacities because of the renewed threat.

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