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Photograph: Kevin Conway, Flightless Bird Creative

Expanded outdoor dining options are returning to Chicago this summer

The new Chicago Alfresco program will predominantly help South and West Side businesses offer outdoor seating.

Zach Long

Even with indoor dining beginning to return, we expect that many Chicagoans will opt to dine outdoors as the weather gets warmer—some folks are simply more comfortable eating outside, especially as many haven't been able to receive a dose of the vaccine quiet yet.

With that in mind, the city and tourism marketing organization Choose Chicago are doubling down on expanding outdoor dining options throughout the city, introducing a new program called Chicago Alfresco. The program builds upon the existing Expanded Outdoor Dining program, which has helped neighborhood restaurants set up tables in parking lots, on sidewalks and in closed streets. With the help of a $2.5 million donation from alcohol company Diageo, Chicago Alfresco will award grants to neighborhood nonprofit organizations working to expand outdoor dining options.

The grant program will shy away from neighborhoods like the West Loop and Lakeview that managed to establish outdoor dining programs last summer, directing funds to neighborhoods with the greatest potential for tourism growth. Chicago Alfresco is committing at least three-quarters of its funding to help restaurant and bars on Chicago's South and West Sides, giving business owners financial assistance so that they can purchase the traffic safety equipment, planters, lighting, umbrellas and surface treatments needed to place seating in public areas.

Proposals for public way outdoor dining projects are being accepted through April 15 via the Chicago Alfresco website.

We're looking forward to seeing how Chicago restaurants are able to expand into the neighborhoods they inhabit and create spaces that attract visitors from across the city (and beyond). We have a feeling that it's going to be another great summer for eating and drinks outdoors.

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