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Just In Time For Patio Season, City Council Backs COVID-Era Rules Making Outdoor Dining Easier

Temporary outdoor dining rules were put in place during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but lapsed late last year.

Phil Ledbetter and Amy Lukasik enjoying a meal on El Cid’s patio.
Mina Bloom/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Restaurants and bars can plan to keep their patios throughout the summer season thanks to City Council’s approval of an ordinance to make outdoor dining options permanent.

Alderpeople approved a measure Wednesday introduced by Mayor Brandon Johnson during his first City Council meeting last week to create a permanent Outdoor Dining Street Permit that would allow restaurants and bars to once again set up tables in the curb or parking lane outside their business.

Groups of three or more restaurants on the same block would also be able to apply for full street closures for their outdoor patios.

The measure passed the Committee on License and Consumer Protection earlier this week.

In spring 2020, the city put in place temporary regulations that allowed for the expansion of sidewalk patios, many of them taking over parts, or in some cases all, of nearby streets. Businesses were also allowed to serve customers on private property, such as on makeshift patios in parking lots.

Those expansions proved crucial to keeping restaurants and bars in business when indoor dining was deemed unsafe as COVID-19 spread, business owners and industry leaders have said.

The expanded outdoor dining rules lapsed at the end of 2022, leaving some restaurant owners to worry they might lose a vital revenue source during the summer.

Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago
After months of being closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, DryHop’s patio opened for outdoor dining.

Taverns and breweries are eligible for the permit, but they must have a “food partner” to qualify, said Elisa Sledzinska, Business Affairs and Consumer Protection spokesperson, previously.

“This means tavern licensees will need to select a food partner and allow patrons to order food to the establishment,” Sledzinska said.

The program will be administered by the business department and the Department of Transportation. A business’s alderperson will need to sign off on any outdoor dining street permits.

The measure would also allow businesses that constructed patios on their own property, like parking lots, to resume outdoor service.

“Those businesses who held permits to operate on private property under the Expanded Outdoor Dining Program in 2022 may apply for new permits and, if granted, operate with those permits until October 31, 2023,” the ordinance reads.

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