Igloos, greenhouses, a parking garage food hall: Chicago's winter dining scene could look a bit different this year as the city works to find a way to keep restaurants open during the coronavirus pandemic.
The city announced late Monday that it received more than 600 submissions in its "winter design challenge," which launched last month and asked residents to propose solutions for outdoor dining during the colder months.
"From architects to designers, restaurateurs, servers and dining enthusiasts, the city has received 643 innovative and exciting ideas for cold-weather outdoor dining in the first-ever Chicago Winter Design Challenge," the mayor's office said in a release.
Among the ideas were dining tents with sliding walls, inflatable igloos and even closing a multi-level parking garage to transform it into a food hall for several restaurants. Some suggested greenhouses or pneumatic pods or an outdoor event with rotating restaurants for those that don't already have outdoor space available.
Over the next few weeks, a panel of local restaurants and community members is expected to review the submissions with winners slated to be announced in October. Each winner will receive $5,000 and opportunities to start their idea at restaurants and bars around the city, the office said.
“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 at the start of the challenge.
A panel of local restaurants and community members will select one winner from each of the following categories:
- Outdoor, standalone structures
- Indoor-adjacent spaces
- Cultural shifts making winter dining more appealing
“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,” Sam Toia, president and CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association, said. “We need out-of-the-box thinking to address the hardship facing our industry."
Dining out raises the risk of contracting COVID-19 more than other activities, such as shopping or going to a salon, according to a report published last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The findings come as many states consider the safest ways to reopen businesses, especially restaurants.