CHICAGO (CBS) — One way Chicago is hoping to keep people working is to keep customers comfortable eating outside, even in the dead of winter.

On Thursday, three big ideas were unveiled, but they’re already being met with criticism.

CBS 2’s Tara Molina spoke with restaurant owners who said the effort won’t really help them. They said it’s nice that the city wanted to do something, but they need more than a contest to keep things going the next few months.

Some calling it more of a PR move than anything else. Steven Hartenstein’s concern, in a pandemic, with winter around the corner and capacity limits slashed to less than half…

“We have restaurants that are down 80%,” said Hartenstein of the Broken English Taco Pub in Old Town. “We’re blessed here that we have a roof that opens up on a day like to today.”

A space he hopes will keep them cut it moving forward.

“But when it’s below zero and snowing, I can’t have the roof open.”

But what he wants is the chance to serve more than 50 people, the max indoor capacity right now.

“I feel like it’s marketing. It’s not our savior,” he said.

There are three winning designs from Chicago’s Outdoor dining contest.

A block party concept- where a parking space or extended sidewalk is used for small outdoor dining modules. Cozy cabins, inspired by ice fishing huts, are also meant to be used in a parking space. And finally, a heated table and blanket design meant to keep diners warm.

“It’s not practical,” said Hartenstein. “How do you invest money you don’t have into all these things?”

The Illinois Restaurant Association will choose a few restaurants to try the prototype designs.

Separately, DoorDash is offering 100 $5,000 grants to restaurants in the city to help with winter outdoor dining plans, but Steven is skeptical.

“We appreciate everything, but that’s not saving us. None of it is going to cut it. The answer is to allow people the choice to go out or not go out.”

Winning solutions for everyone or not, the President of the Illinois Restaurant Association said it is making final decisions now and we should know which restaurants will test the winning prototypes soon.

The organization’s president and CEO Sam Toia said in a statement that he’s very impressed with the selections and creativity involved in designing a complicated project.

“Many of the outdoor dining concepts embraced the innovative thinking we need during this critical time for the restaurant industry. The Illinois Restaurant Association is looking forward to seeing the prototypes come to life and identifying independent restaurants that will benefit from testing them onsite. We are formalizing decisions in the days ahead; from there, we will link restaurants with designers to start the building process.”

In a statement, DoorDash said it understands how restaurants have been hurt during the pandemic. The company released this statement.

“A new $2 million grant program DoorDash is launching through its Main Street Strong initiative to help restaurants in select cities figure out how they can expand their operations in the winter to stay viable. Specifically, $500,000 in grant funding will be allocated for Chicago and made available to local restaurants to help them as they navigate the winter months, keeping employees and customers safe while ensuring their businesses survive.

Starting October 16, Chicago-area restaurants will be able to apply to receive up to $5,000 in individual grant funding to defray winterization expenses such as the cost of heating equipment, additional safety materials to improve indoor dining, upgrades for air filtration systems, bulk orders of blankets for patrons, and more. Funds will be distributed on a rolling basis through the end of November.  

 

Tara Molina