Patios Rule, and Rules for Patios

Chicagoans love to eat. They love to eat outside even more. However, restaurant owners can’t just throw a few tables and chairs on the sidewalk and invite people to sit down. This is Chicago, after all, where everything is licensed and regulated and requires multi-part forms.


Restaurateurs have to apply for a Sidewalk Cafe license. The application includes pictures, plans, and a signature from the Alderman (makes me wonder how many ever have to pay for a meal). The license itself is only $600/year – not bad considering the revenue outdoor dining is likely to generate. They can be open from 8am to Midnight and there’s no music allowed, either recorded or live.


That’s all well and good, but what’s really interesting is how detailed the city gets in the actual design of the space. For example, it’s got to be enclosed by a railing or fence, and at least half of that has to be topped with planter boxes. Those have to be at least 6″ deep and 8″ wide, and “securely fastened” (the things you have to specify…). If you’ve got a cafe larger than 300 square feet, you better have a 24″ shrub that can be seen above that railing, and you’ll need one for each extra 100 feet (rounded up, of course). THEN you need to make sure you’ve got real live plants in those planter boxes. Those real live plants have to cascade or trail vine-like down the outside of the fence. Did I mention they have to be live plants? Dead ones just won’t do. The fence itself? Make it stable and sturdy, but don’t even think about bolting it to the sidewalk.


On the surface these all seem appropriate. The business is using part of a public thoroughfare to make money so they should make it aesthetically pleasing for everyone. However, it’s just common sense that a restaurant will want to make their sidewalk cafe look good. If they don’t, who will want to eat there? Additionally, how much time do we as taxpayers want our elected officials policing whether someone’s using the required number of 24″ planters? It all seems a bit excessive.  Click here for the full application.


What are your thoughts? Do you think these requirements are appropriate, or are they too restrictive?






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