A restaurant group in San Diego wants to build a luxurious observation wheel to allow for COVID-safe seating.

By Jelisa Castrodale
October 13, 2020
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A couple of months ago, the City of Chicago launched a highbrow contest that it called the Winter Dining Challenge, which encouraged participants to submit their creative-but-doable solutions for safe outdoor dining during its reliably brutal winter months.

"[The] City of Chicago is trying to think through how to keep the neighborhood businesses (especially restaurants and bars) open during the late Fall and Winter as the weather turns colder," it wrote. "Takeout and delivery will remain options but they often do not provide sufficient revenue to keep these places in business. As such, designing ways to attract customers to go out to their neighborhood restaurants and stay on-site for their meals is the priority in this design challenge."

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They received more than 640 entries from 14 different countries, and some of them were…well, maybe not the best ideas. One person suggested warming live rats on outdoor heaters before allowing them to run around under the tables. Another said that diners could zip themselves into theft-proof sleeping bags attached to the chairs, while someone else recommended rebuilding the World's Fair-era Ferris wheel and using the gondolas as individual seating areas.

That last one might not get off the ground (literally) in Chicago, but it is being considered in San Diego. David Cohn of Cohn Restaurant Group and the Prado at Balboa Park has proposed temporarily building a 148-foot tall Ferris wheel, which he says could safely accommodate as many as 288 diners in 36 separate eight-passenger gondolas.

"[The Balboa Park Star] is not a Ferris wheel. It’s an observation wheel [...] The opportunity is to bring a world-class attraction to the heart of Balboa Park,” he told the Balboa Park committee. “The views are amazing from the top of this wheel, and it’s a day and nighttime activity for locals, visitors, families, seniors and everyone in between. It’s also a very COVID-safe activity.”

According to FOX 5, if the not-a-Ferris-wheel is approved it would take two weeks to assemble, and it would be in the park for around three months. In addition to the "standard" gondolas, the Star would also have VIP options available for a "luxury dining experience." All of the seating pods would be climate-controlled with wireless communication capabilities and internal sound systems. "The Balboa Park Star will re-energize the heart of Balboa Park with a spirit of excitement and discovery," Cohn's group wrote in its PowerPoint presentation.

FOX 5 says that the Star is still in its "early conceptual stages," and will still need to go through a full application process, before being considered by the Balboa Park Committee in the future.

Meanwhile, in Tokyo, the Yomiuriland amusement park is allowing people to rent a private gondola on its Ferris wheel for an hour. It doesn't serve food, but you could bring a takeaway lunch to enjoy while you use the pocket WiFi and take a dozen pics to use during your next Zoom call. The gondola rentals are part of the park's "Amusement Work" campaign, which encourages people who are tired of their current workspaces to relocate to the park for a couple of hours.

And, back in Chicago, the Winter Dining Challenge judges selected three "Top Ideas," which include a set of modular seating blocks, small parking space-sized personal cabins, and heated tables. We're doing to assume they didn't eve consider the heated rats.