Chicago restaurants close patios as covid cases rise

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Many have purchased heaters, igloos and other investments to keep customers safe and warm on their patios. When Governor JB Pritzker shut down indoor dining about a month ago, outdoor dining became even more crucial.

Restaurant owners say recent warnings from Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who issued a stay-at-home advisory last week, appear to be getting across to diners. People just aren’t going out to dine on patios as much amid the growing number of cases.

Boka Restaurant Group, which owns Girl & The Goat, Momotaro and others, closed its patios last week. Fifty/50 Restaurant Group, which owns Roots Handmade Pizza, West Town Bakery and others, made the same decision.

“It just didn’t make financial sense,” said Fifty/50 co-owner Scott Weiner. “With a patio and 25% of your interior, you could break even. But having only one terrace in inconstant weather is too hard.

The four Roots locations at Fifty/50 and West Town Bakery will remain open for takeout, but Weiner does not expect outdoor dining to return until some semblance of indoor dining is again authorized.

Nixing patio dining is a responsible decision for restaurants that aren’t breaking even from operations, said Dan Jacobs, chief operating officer of Restaurant Solutions, a restaurant accounting firm.

Those who have spent money on heaters would do well not to feel obligated to those past investments, he said.

“Is it an easy move? No, he said. But you can’t keep digging a grave.

At Daisies in Logan Square, the decision to stop dining on the patio was made for the safety of staff, said executive chef and owner Joe Frillman.

“We had a number of scares,” Frillman said. “With cases increasing as they have, staff, especially service staff, have their concerns.”

The restaurant’s back patio worked well with socially distanced diners during the summer, and Frillman had plans for an outdoor vacation bar. Closing it is a socially responsible decision, he said.

Daisies will be closed the week after Thanksgiving, and Frillman said he would reassess then. Daisies has other sources of income to rely on. It has launched a food pantry from which customers can buy groceries and lunch deals and will soon start selling meal kits.

“My job right now is basically to find as much income as possible to maintain as many jobs as possible,” Frillman said.

Keeping employees safe and anticipating any restrictions that may befall them is a difficult balance for restaurants, said Lori Rakoczy, senior research and information manager at Technomic.

“It seems almost clear that they won’t be lifted for a long time,” she said. “The cost of opening and closing. . . is difficult.”

Some restaurants have closed completely for the winter, hoping to shore up their funds and survive in hibernation until spring. Others fought against the restrictions.

Some restaurants are moving forward with their outdoor dining plans.

Phillip Walters, co-owner of B. Hospitality, said staff members had the option of staying home if they felt safer. Others want to work, so the group, which owns the Bristol in Bucktown and Italian restaurant Formento’s, will keep its outdoor dining options open.

“We have tents in both places, we have igloos in both places,” he said. “These are going to make it easier to catch those few diners who will keep coming out no matter what.”

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