Recess – Chicago’s Largest Outdoor Patio Restaurant

The moment you first glance at the outdoor patio at Recess, you may think it was designed specifically to address pandemic-related seating capacity limits and social distancing requirements that were imposed earlier in the year. Seriously, why else would a restaurant require an outdoor patio in the size of over 14,500 square feet? The reality is that the multi-tier facility located in the West Loop has fast become one of the main hangouts in the city. Sure, it permits Recess to serve a lot more customers than it could have handled in an indoor setting, but the real bonus here is that dining outdoors in Chicago during the summer is romantic and special. When you consider that city and state pandemic guidelines are still strict regarding indoor dining, anywhere you can find a seat outdoors is a treat and Recess has that covered in more ways than one.


A Closer Look At The Outdoor Patio Experience

It is important to note that the post-pandemic new normal is not that normal at this point. Indoor dining is not an option at some venues simply because of the guidelines. At Recess, the few indoor seats available are spaced eight feet away from garage door windows. The guidelines call for a window or wall that can open up a wall by at least 50 percent. Not all restaurants in the city can meet these pandemic guidelines as Recess has. The outdoor patio just increases the available seating space and provides a welcome place for residents and visitors to enjoy some time dining out in a format that is different but still meets COVID rules. It cuts the capacity for Recess down to 300 from twice that figure but the restaurant’s event sales manager, Toula Georgakopoulos sees it differently. “It’s no longer about spreading the disease, it’s about liability.” Evidence of this is displayed in how the servers interact with customers seated at tables, as will be explained further in just a moment.


The Unique Design Of The Patio

Several shipping containers make up the bulk of the multi-tiered outdoor patio. Within the thirty shipping containers, are tables and seating. Windows are cut out of the sides of the containers to offer spectacular views of the city. The result is additional outdoor seating that is completely covered should the clouds above erupt into a summer shower. Recess claims that the artistic-looking structure has given them Chicago’s largest outdoor patio. Although that claim has yet to be officially recognized, it’s a good hook and something well worth promoting to attract customers who have been shy about dining anywhere with COVID restrictions in place. Access to the patio can be gained by one of the flights of stairs located on opposite sides of the structure which leads to perimeter seating which offers a unique sunset view of the city which gives the site the romantic aspect mentioned earlier. Not to mention the funky vibe that comes from dining out with your sweetheart in a shipping container stacked on other shipping containers, all with a view. Yes, unique and innovative plus, a stroke of genius in dealing with the restrictions and rules that dictate how we can socially interact in a world that has been forever transformed by a pandemic.


COVID Protocols Are In Place

The hospitality group at Recess is represented by Atomic and they worked fast to address the concerns related to reduced capacity limits and other pandemic measures. Staff wears masks, there are hand sanitizing stations, and the word Recess is stenciled outside on the sidewalk to indicate where customers should line up to await access. The site is still using the government theme that established it as a unique place to dine, drink or dance in a historic building that locals still refer to as City Hall. Customers were greeted for the longest time at the host stand with a life-sized cut-out of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. A large-format drink from the menu is delivered to tables in a mini water cooler so customers can serve themselves and hints at the concept of city workers gathered around the water cooler visiting. 

The water cooler idea reduces the number of visits a server has to make to a specific table which cuts down on the number of times contact is made. In a pandemic, that alone will ease some customer anxiety. Plus, Recess utilizes QR Codes where customers can view the menu on their phones further reducing the number of touchpoints. As for the drink selection, the mini water coolers can be filled with such choices as “Liquor License,” the “Crony,’ or “Rum Emanual.” Atomic’s COO Joe Manna says a great deal of effort went into addressing the COVID protocols and adapting them to the restaurant food and drink service to remain compliant and still provide customers with a safe and fun experience while dining out. Although there have been challenges, the team has been able to create ways of meeting them.


Final Thoughts

Dining out for many was a regular activity taken for granted until COVID forced the closure of many public venues including restaurants. The food service industry suffered great losses during that time and some venues have had to become innovative in the reinvention of their businesses to not just meet pandemic restrictions, but to attract customers back to their venues. Not many restaurants in the Chicago area have bounced back in quite the way that Recess has. They took the opportunity of the pandemic to create a massive outdoor eating space that required 30 shipping containers to complete. The result was a multi-tiered outdoor space that provides covered dining and spectacular views of the city. Thinking of taking that someone special out for a meal in an urban setting with a contemporary feel? Consider visiting Recess. Recess is fast becoming one of the most popular dining venues in Chicago. Recess is located in the West Loop at 838 W Kinzie Street, Chicago. It opens on weekdays at 4 PM and 11 AM on weekends. Closing times depend on the city curfew. To reserve a seat or table, visit the Recess website

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