Fall and Winter Outdoor Dining Guidance

Chicago is committed to ensuring that bars and restaurants can operate outdoors safely and successfully during the fall and winter months. Please see below for up-to-date guidance for safe outdoor service.

Outdoor Operations

All outdoor service areas must operate under an Outdoor Patio License, a Sidewalk Café Permit or an Expanded Outdoor Dining Permit:

Structures

Temporary outdoor structures, including tents, are allowed on private property or the public way under the following regulations:

  • Temporary outdoor structures that hold multiple parties must have at least 50% of the sides open to allow air flow
    • Outdoor structures with more than 50% of the sides closed are allowed, but will be treated as indoor spaces and must follow the corresponding capacity restrictions (40%/50 people max for restaurants, 25%/50 people max for taverns)
  • Enclosed structures, such as plastic domes, may be used for individual parties and must have adequate ventilation to allow for air circulation
  • All temporary outdoor structures covering more than 400 square feet must obtain a Department of Buildings (DOB)-issued permit. Permits are typically issued for 60 days but will now be issued for 180 days.
  • Temporary structures must be weighted, anchored or secured to the ground, but cannot be anchored with any method that requires screwing, cutting or drilling into the public way (i.e. on streets or sidewalks)
  • All structural materials should have a fire-resistant certification or flame certification showing material is fire-rated or noncombustible
  • Use of tents and other temporary structures may be deemed unsafe and prohibited during severe weather events (wind, snow, etc.)
  • All structures must be ADA compliant

Heating Devices

Heating Devices are allowed but must meet the following operational regulations:

  • Electrically-powered heating devices are permitted; they must be installed by a licensed electrical contractor, who will obtain an electrical permit. Electrical heating equipment must be marked “UL listed” or “UL classified”
  • Natural gas heaters or any devices fueled with propane are only allowed in open, uncovered areas
  • Operators should abide by any recommended safety guidelines issued with a specific product (see the product’s operations manual)
  • Heating equipment should be unplugged or disconnected for overnight storage, andemployees should be trained in proper installation of fuel tanks and in detecting leaks
  • Establishment should maintain clearance between heaters and all other objects, including tent sides. Required minimum clearance distance depends on the heating device; three feet is recommended.

Safety Considerations

Follow these additional safety considerations to ensure responsible operations.

  • Outdoor spaces with heating devices must keep devices away from combustible materials, such as tents, at all times
  • Enclosed areas with heating devices must have clearly marked entrances and exits
  • Businesses must have sufficient fire extinguishers to cover indoor and outdoor spaces
  • Restaurants will need inclement weather plans in writing and trained to staff to prevent any injuries in storms, snow, or other unsafe situations
  • If plastic domes or other enclosed spaces are used, establishment must post placards advising about increased risk of transmission within an enclosed space

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