If you’ve been to a restaurant this summer, there is a high chance you sat outside. But as the weather gets colder during fall and winter, restaurants are having to think outside the box to make sure they are following COVID-19 safety rules for outdoor dining. This might mean you could eat your next restaurant meal in a school bus, shipping container, plastic igloo, or another creative place!

While Cracker Barrel is setting up tents in the parking lot and using the front porch at its restaurants, some Chicago eateries may have some pretty quirky outside dining setups soon. In August, the mayor announced the Winter Design Challenge. It encouraged people to come up with outdoor dining quick fixes for the Windy City that is also known for its brutally cold winter. Over 640 submissions detailed lots of ideas — and some could be crazy enough to work!

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The submissions are available to view online. Some of the ones with the most likes include one detailing a booth-style table with heated seats. The table sits inside of transparent walls. It also has ventilation, an overhead heating system, and UV light that disinfects the box between parties. It’s called Slide&Dine.

Another, called Rolling Restaurants @ Chicago Landmark Architecture suggests setting up pop-up outdoor restaurants at or near some of the city’s most famous places. Smaller heat lamps hung with mesh would keep customers warm and keep the historical building safe from damage.

Some focus on heated stools, fire pits, and outdoor markets. Others take it a bit further suggesting refurbishing shipping containers, school busses, and old train cars into dining areas.

A cash prize of $5,000 will be given to the winners of three categories: Outdoor, standalone structures; Indoor-adjacent spaces; Cultural shifts making winter dining more appealing. The results are expected soon.

Whatever outdoor dining looks like in the next few months, be sure to bring a coat! Here are 5 New Things You Can Expect to See in Most Restaurants This Fall.

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