Lightfoot looks to make outdoor dining permanent in Chicago

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is serving up a plan to boost business for restaurants and bars by making a program that was implemented during the pandemic permanent.

Outdoor dining in the city is nothing new, but a proposal would make expanded seating a fixture.

The city's Expanded Outdoor Dining (EOD) program served as a lifeline for many restaurants when indoor dining wasn’t an option during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Now, the city is looking to build on that momentum.

"I think it’s great. I mean in Chicago it’s obviously hard to have outdoor dining the whole year, so it’s nice that when it is nice out you can be able to sit outside and there’s so much room for it," said Maryam Bolouri, who lives in the West Loop.

Despite a drop in the temperature, Chicagoans weren’t shying away from dining outdoors in Fulton Market on Thursday.

"Everything about seating should be out here until we’re ice-cold, and it’s time to go in the house, because we’ll have time to do that," said Qiara Johnson, who lives and works in the area.  

Last year, the City Council extended the current program, but it is set to expire Dec. 31.

Because of its success, Mayor Lightfoot has proposed an ordinance to make it a fixture during the warmer months.

"The Expanded Outdoor Dining Program was implemented during the pandemic to ensure the continued operations of our restaurants while keeping workers and customers safe," said Mayor Lightfoot. "I’m pleased that Chicago is now building upon the success of this program and establishing long-term ways to support our hospitality and dining industries with inviting dining spaces throughout our neighborhoods."

If approved, the ordinance would allow hundreds of restaurants that have created makeshift patios in nearby corridors, parking lots and streets to have the opportunity to keep that up from May 1 through Oct. 31 annually – with a permit.

 "I’ve been a proponent where you come into crisis, there’s always something to learn from it and through COVID, we got more creative about what resources we actually had on-hand and this was one of them," said Jeff Timms, who lives in Chicago.

The idea is already a hit among restaurant-goers in Fulton Market, where street closures in exchange for patio seating has become the norm.


"I think it’s a great opportunity to increase capacity for restaurants who really could use the additional revenue," said Elliot Segal.

"I think it’d be a smart move to have the street close down for the summer months when we have the most people out, dining outside," said Kevin Zhang.

Other patrons like the idea, but are sharing their concerns.

"A lot of people just sit, double park, or wait for a parking spot and block traffic," said Zhang.

"It’s really hard to find parking in Fulton Market especially downtown, that’s the only gripe I have with it, but other than that I love sitting outside," said William McCloud, who works nearby.

If approved, permits would allow restaurants to operate in curb lanes where nearby sidewalks aren’t large enough to accommodate patio seating. Plus, full street closures would be permitted for areas where three or more businesses are partaking in the program.  

"This is an exciting next step in Chicago’s outdoor dining program, which is a fundamental part of Chicago’s vibrant dining scene," said BACP Commissioner Kenneth J. Meyer. "The permanent Expanded Outdoor Dining program supports small businesses and neighborhoods, as it has done from the beginning of its creation. BACP worked with city agencies and community partners to ensure the program provides the framework for success."