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City of Chicago shares new rules for outdoor dining this winter

Here's what diners can expect as the temperatures dip.

Morgan Olsen
Written by
Morgan Olsen

Last week, city officials unveiled the public's ideas for extending outdoor dining into the winter months, which ranged from snow globe-inspired "nosh pods" to repurposed school buses and shipping containers. Over the weekend, Chicago also released more practical seasonal outdoor dining guidance for bars and restaurants, as first reported by Eater Chicago.

The short report gives diners a preview of what they can expect when it comes to temporary structures, heating devices and additional safety measures. Outdoor structures that hold multiple parties (think large tented areas) must keep at least half of the sides open to allow for sufficient airflow. That rule doesn't apply to private structures for individual parties (think igloos and yurts), which must only ensure adequate ventilation. The city also notes that the "use of tents and other temporary structures may be deemed unsafe and prohibited during severe weather events (wind, snow, etc.)," so diners might see closures of outdoor spaces when the weather takes a turn for the worse.

None of the added safety precautions are overly surprising: Enclosed areas with heating devices must have clearly marked entrances and exits, restaurant management must develop plans for inclement weather, and enclosed spaces must sport placards that advise guests about the increased risk of the transmission of COVID-19.

There's still no word on increasing indoor dining capacity from 25 percent to 50 percent despite the Illinois Restaurant Association's plea for Mayor Lori Lightfoot to do so. "Increasing indoor occupancy is necessary for the survival of Chicago's restaurant community in the upcoming winter months,"wrote IRA president and CEO Sam Toia and IRA chairman Greg Schulson in the open letter.

Though this plan gives Chicago restaurateurs and diners a slightly clearer (albeit obvious) picture of some of the restrictions they'll face this winter, there are still plenty of questions and fears looming around how restaurants and bars will be able to survive the cold season.

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