City of Chicago releases fall, winter outdoor dining guidelines; IRA expects many restaurants to close

Restaurants push for higher capacity limits as weather cools

Michelle Gallardo Image
Tuesday, September 22, 2020
Restaurants scramble to come up with ways to continue operating outdoors as weather cools
"When your cap is 50, you have nobody. You're in trouble. So most restaurants will close as soon as the weather drops."

CHICAGO (WLS) -- As the temperatures in Chicago begin to dip, restaurants are scrambling to come up with ways to continue operating outdoors.

Since restaurants opened back up for business the city has implemented several measures, including fast-tracking patio permits and expanding outdoor dining into the public way.

The summer season is at an end, and this time of year, along with the changing leaves and cooler temperatures, comes renewed worry from an already hard hit restaurant industry.

Sam Sanchez owns the popular Old Crow and Moe's Cantina restaurants in River North and Wrigleyville and he said he is worried about what is going to happen when it's too cold to eat outside.

Massive establishments could hold several hundred people, but under the city's current rules, a maximum of 50 people are allowed inside.

RELATED: Chicago restaurants hope new small business grants from Illinois will keep them open

"People are like, 'oh you have 25%,' but in reality you have a restaurant that holds 800 people," he said. "When your cap is 50, you have nobody. You're in trouble. So most restaurants will close as soon as the weather drops."

The City of Chicago released new guidelines for fall and winter dining, and seems to be leaving individual businesses to come up with a plan and a design that works best for them.

The guidelines established some basic rules for the heaters and tent of dome dining.

Each winner will receive a $5,000 cash prize and opportunities to pilot their idea at restaurants and bars in the city.

Tents and other temporary structures for multiple parties are allowed as long as they have 50% of the sides open to allow air flow.

For individual parties, the structure must have adequate ventilation.

There are also safety requirements which specify that enclosed areas with heating devices must have marked entrances and exits.

Businesses are required to have fire extinguishers that cover both the indoor and outdoor spaces, and establishments are required to post placards about the increased risk of transmission in an enclosed space.

"Every little bit helps, but not everyone has the real estate such as outdoor cafes, rooftop cafes or closing the streets. That's why it's very important we can increase indoor capacity here in Chicago," said Sam Toia with the Illinois Restaurant Association. "At the same time allowing to sell liquor until 1am would be better to than 11 p.m., because then we could do more seating. Because right now we have to cut off seatings at 9 p.m.

The restaurant association wants the cap to be extended to 50% capacity, and have continued to negotiate with Mayor Lori Lightfoot.