Chicago Launches Winter Design Challenge, Seeks Ideas to Enable Outdoor Dining in Winter

The city of Chicago, IL has launched a new initiative – the Winter Design Challenge – seeking ideas that would allow outdoor dining to continue at restaurants and bars into the winter. Restaurants, bars, and cafes have been able to open for safe on-site service in the summer months, but as the weather turns colder new ideas are needed.

“While we’ve had to implement restrictions and take hard measures to combat a recent rise in COVID-19 activity, we will continue to ensure our restaurants, bars and businesses have the supports they need to survive during these unprecedented times,” said Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot. “We are asking our community members to come together and think creatively about how we can make outdoor dining feasible in the winter.”  

People are encouraged to propose innovative outdoor dining solutions that adhere to COVID-19 health protocols – protecting both customers and restaurant/bar staff. Solutions should be centered around facilitating in-person outdoor dining experiences – rather than delivery or take out – and may relate to physical space as well as operations and service.

 Ideas may be submitted to IDEO’s open innovation platform through Sept. 7, with winners to be announced mid-September. A panel of local restaurants and community members will select one winner in each of the three challenge categories:

  • outdoor, standalone structures;
  • indoor-adjacent spaces; and,
  • cultural shifts making winter dining more appealing.

Each winner receives a $5,000 cash prize. Selected ideas are eligible to access potential piloting opportunities that will be funded by corporate sponsors. The design challenge is led by the City of Chicago with support from BMO Harris Bank, Illinois Restaurant Association, and IDEO.

“Our restaurants and bars are the heart and soul of the city, and we must do everything possible to keep them operational during the harsh winter months,” said Sam Toia, President and CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association. “We need out-of-the-box thinking to address the hardship facing our industry. The Winter Design Challenge demonstrates the City’s support of innovation in these trying times, and we look forward to ideas that are both creative and operationally attainable for our members.”