Parklets + the Evolved Patio

Patio Study

During a summer in Chicago, you will typically find restaurant patios filled with people out enjoying the warm weather. Early in the season, state restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic kept us indoors. Fortunately, as restrictions lifted, we have been able to venture out to visit our favorite patio spaces, while safely social distancing. This city, and many more across the world, have found new and inventive ways to reimagine the outdoor dining experience. As hospitality designers, we’ve found various solutions to be quite inspiring and are looking forward to seeing more creative patio designs developed as the context of the pandemic evolves.

Creative patio designs 1Parklet & Patio Inspiration: [Sources L to R] Big Star/ Eater Chicago, Rua Oscar Freire/ HAA!, Norma’s at The Parker Palm Springs/ Design Boom, Dandelion Chocolate/Wescover


parklet /ˈpärklət/ noun: A small seating area or green space created as a public amenity on or alongside a sidewalk, especially in a former roadside parking space.

Parklet studyAria Group – Chicago Parklet & Patio Study

Earlier this year, we had the opportunity to explore adding parklets to a stretch of restaurants on a city block in downtown Chicago. Our site studies considered repurposing the valet & parallel parking lane as a seating area to allow a restaurant to expand its outdoor patio space. This enabled pedestrian walkways to be placed at a safe distance of six feet away from diners. Elements that we incorporated to enhance the parklet design include screens, planters, and railings. These components, along with various seating types and shade structures, helped to provide a sense of protection from the street and pedestrian traffic.

Plan studyAria Group – Chicago Parklet Site Study

Through our research, we were able to find some helpful applications and guidelines for creating a parklet in Chicago. The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) developed the Make Way for People initiative which aims to create public spaces that encourage community culture engagement in Chicago’s neighborhoods. Also, CDOT’s People Spot provides resourceful information on the city’s design guidelines that are specific to “parklet” concepts.

Parklet studyAria Group – Chicago Parklet + Patio Study

Patio Presence

In our past blog entry, we discussed the Centers for Disease Control and state-specific guidelines and standards that effect dining rooms and patios. Restaurants have been faced with the challenge of adapting their floor plans to abide by social distancing standards. There are various solutions to invoke a restaurant ambiance while maintaining a six-foot distance outdoors. To create a sense of enclosure and intimacy, we suggest designing a patio to allow for shade structures including umbrellas, fabric shades, or built awnings. These shade elements can easily be incorporated into both new and existing spaces. Flooring solutions are also great additions or alternatives if the budget prohibits a larger outdoor structure. Temporary interlocking deck tiles and outdoor area rugs can ground an adapted plan, with the intent of defining spaces while still feeling connected to the restaurant. String lights and outdoor pendants also bring the familiarity of the indoors outside.

Creative winter patio designsFall & Winter Patio Inspiration [Sources L to R] Mediamatic ETEN/ArchDaily, Private Igloo/Coppa Club, Dome Beer Garden/Open Outcry Brewing, Butterfly Awning with Integrated Lighting / Breezefree

As the days start to cool down, elements like outdoor patio heaters, windscreens, and enclosed structures will help extend the life of a patio well into the fall. In recent years many local restaurants, bars, and breweries have been expanding their winter offerings with unique outdoor dining experiences.  One of our favorites last year was the rooftop dome experience that Open Outcry Brewing Company executed in partnership with area businesses to create cozy spots for drinking and socializing. We’re excited to see what new inventions are incorporated into creative patio designs as we roll into the fall and winter.

Adjustments in the design of outdoor restaurant environments have helped to ensure a safer return to public life. We commend the restaurateurs and hospitality designers who have pivoted and implemented unique and creative designs. We are excited to participate in the future of outdoor restaurant design. We truly believe that it will have a positive impact on expanding outdoor dining in future years.