Chicago in winter. Image courtesy of IDEO Design Firm.

The City of Chicago has had a unique idea to combat the upcoming cold weather for its local restaurants— utilizing the public. The Winter Design Challenge, open to any member of Chicago’s community, aims to crowdsource solutions for the outdoor dining requirement and the frigid weather that the city experiences.

The program was launched by the Illinois Restaurant Association and BMO Harris Bank, through IDEO’s OpenIDEO design platform. 

The requirements, according to OpenIdeo, include centering the design around actual dining rather than delivery or takeout and ensuring the safety of both patrons and workers. 

Solutions may be submitted at any stage of development up until September 7th at 11:30pm. The three winning solutions, announced in the middle of this month, will be eligible for a $5,000 cash prize and may become funded by corporate sponsors and piloted by the City. 

Eater reports that some are more open to the idea that others, stating that “many in the service industry are looking for the city to help find more money to help their small businesses instead of turning to bank-sponsored gimmicks.” 

Several of the submissions are available online already, and range in helpfulness. They include outdoor igloo models, heated tables, restaurants inside buses, and a dining subscription. Another submission plainly states, “do not reopen, people are dying.”

Sam Toia, the president and CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association, said in a press release that Chicago’s “restaurants and bars are the heart and soul of the city, and we must do everything possible to keep them operational during the harsh winter months.” 

The announcement comes as restaurants in New York City, which has extended outdoor dining until October 31st, demand an “immediate” solution that involves indoor dining, the New York City Hospitality Alliance says. 

“With feasibility and demand for outdoor dining during the cold winter months expected to be tenuous, insiders are predicting a death knell for the industry if indoor dining does not resume by mid-September,” the Alliance said.