Chicago will test out heated tables, popup ‘cabins’ to keep outdoor dining going in winter months


CHICAGO — Restaurants will keep outdoor dining going throughout Chicago’s winter months using popup cabins, movable booths and Japanese inspired heated tables after the winning design concepts were officially selected by the City Thursday.

While patios have provided a lifeline to many restaurants for months as COVID-19 restrictions limited their indoor capacity, that could come to an end as temperatures drop and snow falls in Chicago. 

The City of Chicago created a contest for designers around the world to weigh on on how to continue outdoor dining while keeping diners and staff safe this winter, selecting three winning concepts Thursday. 

The winning designs include: 

These were the top 60 outdoor dining concepts, according to the City

Heated table design by Ellie Henderson

“As we approach the winter months and adapt our COVID-19 response accordingly, we owe it to our restaurants to make sure they have what they need to continue keeping their doors open and serving their communities,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement.

A total of 643 designs were submitted to the contest, which was run by the City of Chicago in partnership with the design firm IDEO. After narrowing the submissions down to 26 designs, they were sent to a wide range of judges. 

The three winners were selected, according to the City, based on their “feasibility, innovation, cost efficiency, safety adherence and functionality of the idea.” Each winning designer gets a prize of $5,000 for their idea.

These concepts will now be built in collaboration with the Illinois Restaurant Association, which will select which neighborhood restaurants will pilot their use in coming weeks. Construction will be covered by BMO Harris Bank.

The City said over 400 bars and restaurants received special permission to extend their patios onto sidewalks, parking lots and other public spaces, and will have a chance to keep it going through the fall and winter. That could be by adapting the winning designs, putting up tents, or using other means approved by the City.

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