Mayor Brandon Johnson's outdoor dining compromise ordinance clears hurdle before full council vote

Leah Hope Image
Tuesday, May 30, 2023
Chicago outdoor dining rules clear hurdle before full council vote
Rules to make permanent a Chicago outdoor dining program that was a lifeline during the pandemic took one step closer to being enacted Tuesday.b

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Rules to make permanent an outdoor dining program that was a lifeline for many bars and restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic took one step closer to being enacted Tuesday.

A new compromise ordinance was introduced by Mayor Brandon Johnson at last week's city council meeting, and today the city's Committee on Licensing and Consumer protection passed it unanimously.

"Adding outdoor dining helps restaurants expand their footprint out of the sidewalk, onto the curb lane and possibly if there are three or more restaurants interested in closing the street, they could if aldermen and community groups are on board," said Sam Toia, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association.

Former Mayor Lori Lightfoot's plan hit a roadblock for two major reasons.

It allowed a three-block stretch of Clark Street to be closed to make way for expanded outdoor dining. And it automatically renewed permits that allowed restaurants and bars to set up tables in the curb lane, in adjacent parking lots, on sidewalks in front of adjacent neighbors and in the entire street if any three businesses petitioned for it. It also didn't require any input from the local alderperson.

Johnson's compromise eliminates the streamlined, automatic renewal process and requires sign-off from the local alderperson every year.

Only retail food establishments that have "on-premises" consumption will be eligible for expanded outdoor dining permits.

Taverns would be permitted to set up outdoor tables and operate sidewalk cafes, but only if they allow food service. And the requirement that a business be ineligible for a sidewalk café in order to apply for a curb lane permit was removed.

In addition, two full-street closing permit holders would be authorized to finish the season, even if the third petitioner "voluntarily ceases business" or had their operating license "revoked for cause."

"It's important we got this passed because summer is upon us and people like to get outside and warmer weather is moving in," said 50th Ward Alderwoman Debra Silverstein.

"This industry and our hospitality members need to meet customers where they are, and more and more that's on streets and sidewalks, cafes and outdoor dining," said Ray Stout, executive director of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild.

Sixteenth Ward Alderwoman Stephanie Coleman said the ordinance allows more Black and brown businesses to take advantage of Chicago's good weather seasons and potentially keep more revenue in the community.

"For my community, it changes the aesthetics of a 59th Street, of a 63rd Street, folks would say crime-stricken but no, this is family-led, community-driven businesses," Coleman said.

The Chicago Department of Transportation is already accepting permit applications. That will allow eligible restaurants and bars to begin setting up additional outdoor tables as soon as the City Council grants final approval.

The ordinance goes to the full city council Wednesday.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.