Do you all remember the fable about the ant and the grasshopper? The ant prudently spent the summer working hard and stocking up for the winter while the grasshopper went around playing music and partying grasshopper-style. But when the cold weather came, she sure learned her lesson, because the ant had a nice, comfortable home to hide out in while the grasshopper had to beg for food. The ant was unsympathetic: “You were making music? Now dance.”
I suppose it’s not really fair to say that restaurant owners have been grasshoppers, because they spent most of the summer setting up their patios and figuring out ways to keep their businesses open in the midst of the pandemic, but 90-degree days won’t last forever. The Pumpkin Spice Latte is already here, and soon fall will come as well and it will be too cold in many parts of the country to eat outside. In some places, indoor dining is still prohibited altogether. And what are restaurant owners going to do then?
CNN talked to several restaurant owners and consultants around the country and learned that no one is really sure. Some considered covering their patios and building out indoor-outdoor space, but that was prohibitively expensive. Others plan to invest in heaters and maybe branded blankets that customers can take home and hope that it turns out to be a mild winter. The only thing they all agree on is that they’ll need outside help to stay open, be it rent abatement from their landlords or grants from the government.
In Chicago the mayor’s office, along with BMO Harris Bank and the Illinois Restaurant Association, has launched a contest to find a solution to the outdoor dining problem. “Solutions must be centered around facilitating in-person outdoor dining experiences, rather than delivery or take out,” the contest brief states. The solution must be feasible, equitable, and accessible, and it should not make the lives of restaurant staff miserable. The prize is $5,000 and the contest closes September 7. Go get it.