CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago restaurants and bars can now have more people inside, with relaxed rules that started on Thursday.
But as CBS 2’s Steven Graves reported Thursday, demand is still high for outdoor dining. And accommodating those people who want to eat outside now that it’s getting colder is not so simple.
Broadway between Belmont Avenue and Diversey Parkway has been closed on several weekends going back to the late spring to make way for tables. Soon, that run will end.
For most restaurants, outdoor dining will end altogether. Owners said rules for pitching a tent means it isn’t even worth it.
The fall chill in the air already has Wilde Bar and Restaurant, 3130 N. Broadway, trying to make longer-term outside dining work.
“We’re going to have heat lamps outside,” said Wilde manager Debbie Smith, “but with the lake being so near, and the wind, rain and all that, we’re going to have indoor dining.”
But Chicago’s eased restrictions only allow for 40 percent capacity inside. And where other businesses could pitch a tent outdoors, there is simply no room along densely-packed Broadway.
“There will be challenges,” said Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Maureen Martino. “I’m not sure the customer base will be there when it gets that cold.”
And for those customers who do come, the next challenge is for owners to keep them warm. That is because the City of Chicago has requirements on tents.
All material must be fire-resistant, and heaters must be kept away at a safe distance.
At least 50 percent of the tent’s walls also have to be open.
“We think that COVID is spread by aerosols,” said Dr. Susan Bleasdale of the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center. “So it doesn’t mean that you have to feel the air flow, but that there isn’t lack of movement.”
Tent companies told CBS 2 they are putting up enclosed tents in the suburbs, where some businesses are trying to mimic indoor capacity limits.
Back in Lakeview, many businesses are banking on summer sales that skyrocketed to keep them afloat.
“Restaurants are opting out and closing completely until the New Year,” Martino said.
The Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce said it is all about saving money, and hoping for a strong return next year.
We did reach out to the State of Illinois. They say the rules are similar to the city’s when it comes to outdoor tents where fifty percent of it needs to be open.
Meanwhile, we should know the results of the city’s Winter Design Challenge next week. The city is looking for creative ideas.
There are other options besides tents as it is, such as dividers and bubbles, but owners say those have become a little more complicated, and too costly.