Chicago is offering a $5000 cash prize to residents who devise a way to make outdoor dining feasible in the winter months. Because of the ongoing pandemic, outdoor dining has become an essential way for restaurants to stay open while reducing the spread of the novel coronavirus, but Chicago is infamous for its bitterly cold winters, where lows average 17°F (-8.3°C) in January, and the daily high might not reach above freezing. The lowest recorded temperature in the city was -27°F (-32.8°C), and it can get 28 snowy days a year. Even Chicago’s mayor, Lori Lightfoot, admitted that winters there have a “reputation.”

Lightfoot announced the Winter Dining Challenge on Twitter, and the prize will be awarded to three Chicago residents who submit entries that conform to the city’s COVID-19 guidelines and include a prototype and feasibility research. The three categories are Outdoor Ideas (located on patios, sidewalks and parking lots), Indoor-Adjacent Ideas (immediately next to an indoor space) and Cultural Change, which seeks ideas to make outdoor dining more appealing in the colder months.

Rustic of Chicago deep dish pizza close-up on the table. horizontal
Chicago is famous for its deep dish pizza ©Sergii Koval/Alamy Stock Photo

“Takeout and delivery will remain options, but they often do not provide sufficient revenue to keep these places in business,” the official Winter Dining Challenge website reads. “As such, designing ways to attract customers to go out to their neighborhood restaurants and stay on-site for their meals is the priority in this design challenge.”

More than 360 ideas have already been submitted, and they include a number of interesting structure ideas, such as igloos, greenhouses, geodesic dome bubbles, yurts and even a labyrinth made from wind-blocking hedgerows.

The deadline for entries is 11:30pm on September 7. The ideas can be submitted online through the OpenIDEO website and will be reviewed by a panel of judges that includes chefs at local restaurants, food writers and the president of the Illinois Restaurant Association.

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