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City provides guidance for winter outdoor dining

Tents are OK. Heaters are, too. But no drilling into sidewalks.

The outdoor dining tables at Formento’s Italian restaurant in West Town neighborhood, Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2020. Bottle of hand sanitizer sits in the center of the tables instead of a centerpiece.
The outdoor dining tables at Formento’s Italian restaurant in West Town neighborhood, Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2020. Bottle of hand sanitizer sits in the center of the tables instead of a centerpiece.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Bar and restaurant owners must wait until next week to see the winners of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Winter Design Challenge — a contest seeking innovative ways to host diners outside this winter.

But in the meantime the city has issued new guidelines for businesses that want to get a jump on setting up their own pandemic-friendly spaces.

Here are several key takeaways from the guidelines:

• Temporary outdoor structures that hold multiple parties must have at least 50% of the sides open to allow air flow.

• Enclosed structures, such as plastic domes, may be used for individual parties and must have adequate ventilation to allow for air circulation.

• Temporary structures must be weighted, anchored or secured to the ground, but cannot do so by screwing, cutting or drilling into sidewalks.

• All structural materials should have a fire-resistant certification or flame certification.

• Use of tents and other temporary structures may be deemed unsafe and prohibited during severe weather events.

It’s worth noting that all outdoor spaces must have a sidewalk café permit, outdoor patio license or an expanded outdoor dining permit.

• Heating equipment must be shown on site plans submitted with permit applications.

• Electrically-powered heating devices are permitted, but must be installed by a licensed electrical contractor, who will obtain an electrical permit.

• Natural gas heaters or any devices fueled with propane are only allowed in open, uncovered areas.

• Outdoor spaces with heating devices must keep devices away from combustible materials, such as tents, at all times.

• Enclosed areas with heating devices must have clearly marked entrances and exits.

• Businesses must have sufficient fire extinguishers to cover indoor and outdoor spaces.

• Restaurants will need foul weather plans in writing and trained staff to prevent injuries in storms, snow, or other unsafe situations.

• If plastic domes or other enclosed spaces are used, establishments must post placards advising about increased risk of transmission within an enclosed space.

The guidelines come as restaurant and bar owners await the results of Lightfoot’s design challenge, which sought innovative outdoor dining solutions.

The submission window for designs closed earlier this month. Winners will be announced Sept. 29.

Ideas range from tents featuring sliding walls to repurposing shipping containers to protect diners from the elements.

Entries were submitted by professional designers, as well as amateurs, like the seventh-grade student from Schaumburg who suggested small greenhouses be used to house diners.