Chicago launches restaurant design challenge to find solutions to winter outdoor dining

Restaurant design likely will never be the same in a post-coronavirus world. A key element of adapting to restricted customer capacity has been and will continue to be outdoor dining. But as summer quickly slips away, restaurants in Chicago face the question of how to survive without the expanded seating of patios and rooftops. So the City of Chicago is putting on a design challenge in search of creative solutions for winter outdoor dining, offering a $5,000 cash prize to three winners.

a group of people sitting at a table in front of a building: The Lopez family of Chicago's Archer Heights neighborhood dine at Joy Yee in the Chinatown Square outdoor mall on Thursday, July 16, 2020.

© Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS
The Lopez family of Chicago’s Archer Heights neighborhood dine at Joy Yee in the Chinatown Square outdoor mall on Thursday, July 16, 2020.

The Winter Design Challenge, announced on Tuesday, will run Aug. 25 to Sept. 7, and is open to all residents, with three winners to be announced mid-September. All proposals for in-person outdoor dining must adhere to COVID-19 protocols and guidelines, and designers are asked to consider customers, restaurants workers, construction trade workers and all other jobs associated in making a restaurant tick. The competition is in partnership with IDEO, a global design and consulting firm, BMO Harris Bank and the Illinois Restaurant Association. The winners are also eligible for corporate funded pilot opportunities to apply their ideas.

“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,” said Mayor Lori Lightfoot in a press release Tuesday. “We are asking our community members to come together and think creatively about how we can make outdoor dining feasible in the winter.”

Participants should submit their proposals on IDEO’s open innovation platform. One winner will be selected for proposals on outdoor, standalone structures, one winner will be selected for indoor-adjacent spaces and one winner will be selected for “cultural shifts making winter dining more appealing.”

The hope for this program is to expand on the city’s re-opening plans around outdoor dining, which has allowed restaurants to expedite sidewalk permits and repurpose private property, and neighborhoods to close down streets to allow for more outdoor dining space.

The plan comes two weeks after industry leader Sam Toia, president and CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association, urged local government officials to be creative in extending outdoor dining by extending street closures and using tents, heaters, blankets and plastic domes to give restaurants more seating capacity.

“We need out-of-the-box thinking to address the hardship facing our industry,” said Toia in the press release. “The Winter Design Challenge demonstrates the city’s support of innovation in these trying times, and we look forward to ideas that are both creative and operationally attainable for our members.”

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