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Taking Winter Dining to Another Level

Photo of Cat Knoerr
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Idea Title


Company / organization name (if applicable)


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

The graphic visualizes the overall design and objectives of Lots-2-Eat.

Solution Overview

Welcome to Lots-2-Eat; Chicago’s newest dining experience! By leveraging multi-level covered parking garages, diners can safely gather with others, support local eateries, and taste new favorites.

Restaurants will use the garages to continue service, with the Lots-2-Eat Program providing equipment as needed. Customers will be given options based on their comfort level. For a traditional experience, customers can enjoy table service where contact points between diners and servers are minimized. For a more socially distant experience, visitors can order and pick up food while having minimal contact with other diners and staff. Finally, restaurants can cater to the most cautious clientele by utilizing the location for contactless pick-up. Customers can park in the garage to enjoy their food or drive home to enjoy their meal.

This concept will act as a satellite location for restaurants to interact with the community and drive marketing and business for their brick-and-mortar locations.


The implementation of this idea will include a pilot phase to test, gather feedback, and iterate before the full city launch. The Procure phase will allow the city and participating restaurants to prepare. During the Set-Up phase, the city and restaurants will work on-location to create an optimal customer and employee experience and experiment with the space.

Following Procure and Set-Up, a pilot of 1-2 locations will gather feedback to improve design, experience, and execution. The overall program launch will occur after feedback has been implemented and full locations have been chosen to operate throughout the winter.

We estimated the cost per level to set up a parking facility with the associated materials, labors, and parking garage rental for four months. These estimates are for 4 restaurants per floor with 7 tables per restaurant. The estimated total cost would be $100,000, averaging ~$15,000 per restaurant for the four month duration.

Technical Overview

By utilizing parking structures, the Lots-2-Eat Program requires minimal materials. Initially, the program could be accomplished with folding tables and portable kitchen equipment. With more investment, booths could be constructed from structurally insulated panels. These panels come in modular sizes, assemble easily, and provide shelter from the elements. Fabric can be used to cover concrete ceilings to improve sound quality, and supplemental wind blocks can be generated out of plastic sheets.

Temperature can be managed through point-source radian heating. These systems can be used with natural ventilation and would redirect heat harvested from the hot cooking surfaces to keep guests comfortable.

Open air parking structures provide ventilation to protect against airborne diseases, but harsh winter winds quickly turn the natural ventilation against us. This is overcome by blocking the westerly winds and selectively blocking off openings to mitigate both wind and heat loss.


This idea allows for restaurants that are resource restricted or unable to create outdoor spaces due to sidewalk limitations the opportunity for safe and comfortable outdoor dining at a fraction of the investment. For customers, these will be at neighborhood locations that will allow for restaurants in both close-proximity and further away to come together. Parking garages allow for ease of access in terms of central location, proximity to Chicago public transit, and are ADA compliant.


Our team initially wanted to create an A-Frame dining hall like structure. While we liked the idea, we felt the creation of a new structure had cost and time implications that couldn’t be solved, therefore we began searching for ways to use existing structures.

User Research

We completed user research with current and former residents of Chicago to gather customer perspectives. To understand opportunities and constraints of restaurants we interviewed the owner of Brightwok Kitchen, and a general manager within the Lettuce Entertain You restaurant group.

Our customer research centered on attitudes towards outdoor dining experiences during the winter months. Customers prefer outdoor dining and seek out restaurants that follow strict social distancing. The Lots-2-Eat program provides multiple styles of dining to cater to a wide berth of users with different risk tolerances.

Our restaurant research focused on seasonal business trends, COVID-19 revenue impact, customer behavior shifts and current restaurant outdoor operations. Interviewees expressed concern that smaller restaurants do not have the capability to offer outdoor dining. The Lots-2-Eat program addresses this concern by providing a space that any restaurant can utilize and engage with the community.

Covid-19 Safety

Parking garages ensure consistent airflow through their design and ventilation systems. Typical air changes per hour in a hospital setting are between 20-25, and the Lots-2-Eat program can meet or exceed these standards. Parking garages are equipped with one way directional signage that can be utilized to direct visitors, and the average width of a parking spot is 9 feet, allowing for easy marking of social distancing requirements.

Standard COVID-19 safety protocol will be required such as masks (unless seated and eating), safety posters, hand sanitizer stations, and temperature readings. High touch areas will be frequently cleaned.

Capacity will be limited  based on current Chicago social distancing ordinances. Stairways will be kept one way only to allow for safe usage. Capacity limitations will be in line with current social distancing ordinances.

Restaurant staff serve behind plexiglass shields and will not directly wait tables. Tables will be cleaned after patrons are finished.

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

Our team is constructed of three Kellogg School of Management MMM Program dual degree MBA and MS Design Innovation students (Kyle Graham, Jackie Chen and Cat Knoerr) and their partners (Michelle Graham and Andrew Lydens). Our team has more than 25 years of experience within strategy, finance, organizational design, and architecture.

Please describe your legal or organizational structure

Student Team

In what city are you / your team located?

Evanston, IL

In what country are you / your team located?


How did you hear about the Challenge?

  • Someone in my network (word of mouth)


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Photo of Sarah Roy

Very Fun!

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