Restaurants in Chicago can open for a limited amount of indoor seating along with the rest of the state starting June 26, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Friday, in a surprise announcement that will have people dining out. inside a week earlier than expected.
“Like everyone in Chicago, I am personally thrilled to see them taking these new, careful steps to reopen safely, and I salute their collaboration throughout this unprecedented crisis,” Lightfoot said in a press release.
Restaurants, bars and brasseries can all open, but with restrictions, as has been the case for outdoor dining. The move will align with Gov. JB Pritzker moving the state into phase four of his reopening plan.
Restaurants will be limited to 25% capacity, with a maximum of 50 people per room or floor, and tables must be spaced at least 6 feet apart, with 10 or fewer people per table.
Michael Roper, founder of bar and restaurant Hopleaf in Andersonville, said he would gladly open his dining room the first day he was able.
“We absolutely have to have this and we need it now,” Roper said. “I’m not sure that even with additional seats we will be able to be profitable, but at the moment if we can lose less money, it’s better than losing more money.”
Hopleaf began sitting outside two weeks ago with heightened safety measures, which Roper said include staff wearing masks and gloves and sanitizing bathrooms every 30 minutes. The biggest benefit of indoor seating will be the ability to do business whatever the weather, he said.
One afternoon last week, Hopleaf had to close due to rain – a painful move for a business struggling to survive.
“People will still prefer to sit outside I think, but if the weather gets bad I won’t have to send them all home,” Roper said. “That’s a huge advantage.”
Sam Toia, president and CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association, said Lightfoot’s plan doesn’t go far enough. He said he opposed a limit set at 25% occupancy with a maximum of 50 people.
Toia said he would prefer to see the city and state follow California’s lead in allowing restaurants to open without capacity limits, as long as tables are spaced 6 feet apart and customers and staff are properly masked.
“We think 50% is obviously more economically feasible than 25%, with a maximum of 50 people,” Toia said. “When the coronavirus hit us over 12 weeks ago, there was never a restaurant business model in place to go 12 weeks without sales or 20-30% of the sales you made a year ago. “
Still, Toia called the move a step in the right direction and added, “Every little bit counts.”
Brian Jupiter, chef and owner of Frontier Restaurant in Noble Square and Ina Mae Tavern & Packaged Goods in Wicker Park, said operating at 25% capacity is “working well for us – so far”.
“You need to stay open-minded about the whole process and be as adaptable as possible,” Jupiter said. “You have to appreciate what you have now a lot more, depending on how quickly we lost everything.”
Kelly Cheng, general manager of Sun Wah BBQ, the Uptown Chinese restaurant founded by her father, which she now runs with her brother and sister, said the restrictions would be difficult for businesses, but agreed that they were needed.
“For a 200-seat restaurant, telling me I can only seat 50 people is nothing,” Cheng said. “But I agree for customer safety. I see the need. I understand.”
For the safety of customers and staff, Cheng will ask customers to sign a form declaring they believe themselves to be free from coronavirus. She came up with the idea for a COVID-19 playbook created by Hong Kong restaurant group Black Sheep. All restaurant patrons will be required to sign in, whether seated inside or outside.
“There will be no exceptions to this rule,” Cheng said. “Name, number, email and signature – that’s it. I don’t want to see your doctor’s note that says you’re ‘COVID clear’.”
The restaurant reopening schedule led to a dispute between Lightfoot and Pritzker. The mayor has repeatedly urged the governor to allow a limited number of indoor restaurants alongside outdoor options, saying “no restaurant I know of will be able to survive based on the weather a special day in Chicago”.
And just this week, she expressed her frustration over Pritzker’s refusal, saying, “It’s high time we opened up indoor dining.”
But the governor resisted easing that restriction ahead of his timeline for phase four.