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2020 Chicago Winter Mealathon Bundle Up. Mask On. Eat Out.

Chicago Marathon for Eaters: Register for the challenge of dining out 26(.2) times during winter with incentives for patrons, owners & staff

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A take on the Chicago Marathon in which eaters register for the challenge of dining out 26(.2) times during the winter season with incentives for restaurant patrons, owners and staff.

Idea Title

Winter Mealathon Bundle Up. Mask On. Eat Out.

Company / organization name (if applicable)

Prequal, LLC

Website (if applicable)

Please include a visual representation of your concept, including but not limited to images, diagrams, or 2D / 3D graphics

Bundle Up. Mask On. Eat Out.

Solution Overview

This alternative-marathon is a fun, community generating campaign focused on supporting restaurants and waitstaff during this disrupted COVID-era in a city with unpredictable weather. Sign up for the Chicago Mealathon and commit to eating at least 26(.2) meals out at participating establishments across the city throughout winter.

Race participation options follow a traditional marathon format and includes a race packet and bib number at varying levels with corresponding benefits like masks, cold weather branded merchandise, coupons and elusive reservations.

Eaters can track their progress through an app to compete for categorical prizes.

Meals/points can be earned for takeout & gift card purchases, but users earn more for onsite dining, during bad weather, or for visiting a restaurant in a clearly identified hub.

Race entry fees to be donated to the IRAEF relief fund for food service workers & sponsors to underwrite restaurant participation including marketing & implementation costs.


The idea of a Chicago Mealathon can be as simple or as large as you are willing to invest.

A contest like this can be implemented in a short time frame if already established technology is leveraged, including registration and points tracking (for diners) and participation and reservation systems (for restaurants).

This idea requires no upfront financial investment from restaurant proprietors to participate, and sponsorship funds can cover all marketing and implementation costs.

Since the objective of a Mealathon is to drive dining and restaurant revenue, it can easily be combined with any viable indoor and outdoor ideas the city plans to support. We recommend all restaurants be given access to the outdoor/indoor ideas submitted in this contest. Each establishment can then determine what is most applicable and beneficial to their individual context.

It's important to note that the Chicago Mealathon can continue even if indoor dining becomes prohibited and is a limited waste approach.

Technical Overview

The Chicago Mealathon is a marketing and technology-based idea. Implementation is attainable within weeks; scope and scale are flexible. The program design is dependent on budget, access to existing resources, partnerships, and business objectives outside of this contest.

This idea requires the design and development of a website and app for sharing contest details, participant and restaurant registration, tracking of points and rewards, sharing safety information, real-time updates, promotions, and prizes.

Ideally, we’d leverage the technology of a current industry partner (Opentable, GrubHub, Uber Eats, Yelp, etc.) to utilize an already configured restaurant database and then customize around programs specifics.

This planned approach also requires strong communication, publicity, and a social media strategy. It can be piloted/prototyped to INVEST South/West Neighborhoods first or exclusively.


This idea is very inclusive as all restaurants/bars/cafes can participate regardless of geographical location, structural limitations, available budget and requires zero restaurant capital to implement or scale. The Chicago Mealathon can drive diversity and inclusivity by leveraging contests, rewards and points to incentivize patronage to specific businesses; double the points if the restaurant is in a clearly identified hub. This gives everyone an opportunity to participate in a marathon.


Based on user research, we believe this concept will be impactful because annually (on average) the Polar Plunge draws 2,000 participants, the Shamrock Shuffle attracts 25,000 runners, and the Chicago Marathon has 45,000 participants. The Taste of Chicago draws over 1.6 million visitors. While Chicagoans love to rally around something, not everyone is an athlete, but every person needs to eat.

The Mealathon will be similarly aligned to these other events in such that it is designed with 3 human psychological drivers at its core: curiosity, concern, and competition. It's different in that there's a larger market over an extended period. It can’t replace the loss of a Fall tradition, like the Chicago Marathon, but the Chicago Mealathon can be a timely substitute to reignite the passion and sense of community that the annual Marathon encompasses.

This format has proven successful in Chicago repeatedly, there are limited upfront costs and participation isn’t tied to a specific day or time.

User Research

To ensure alignment between our idea, contest objectives, and Chicago's response to Coronavirus disruption and opportunity, we reviewed the Chicago Recovery Task Force Advisory Report (7/9/2020)

A Chicago Mealathon is responsive to the information and goals listed in pages 60-69, including:

  • Design a brand to unite Chicagoans
  • Create a coalition
  • Speak to key audiences
  • Taste of Chicago Neighborhoods
  • Concentrate development on clearly identified hubs
  • Promote activities and programs

People participate in marathons because it's an incredible achievement and to do so with community intention is doubly rewarding. We used the following articles to inform our process and validate our concept:

Covid-19 Safety

This idea is a marketing campaign.  It does not aim to design or construct indoor/outdoor dining solutions; instead, it incentivizes diners to visit local establishments with a preference for onsite dining.

We would require and assume that all participating restaurants/bars/cafes meet COVID-19 safety standards and criteria as outlined by the designated phase in the Reopening Chicago plan and are ADA compliant.

Additionally, the app could be used as a communication tool to push safety notifications and reminders to registered Chicagoans. Data collected through the app could supplement contact tracing efforts related to employee/restaurant COVID outbreaks and exposures. 

Tell us about yourself and your team. What is your background and experience?

Prequal is a female-founded, COVID-era startup with the mission to help businesses attract and retain customers & clients through ideation and implementation. This proposal is submitted by a husband and wife team with significant experience in project design and management - one is an engineer and one is a marketer. We plan to engage additional Chicago vendors and partners when applicable and necessary according to scope, specific skills, and deadlines.

Please describe your legal or organizational structure

Prequal is an LLC.

In what city are you / your team located?

The Chicago suburb of Glen Ellyn, IL

In what country are you / your team located?

United States of America

How did you hear about the Challenge?

  • In the news


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