Restaurant owners critique return of limited indoor dining

The Chicago Restaurants Coalition wants weekly phone call with the mayor’s staff to discuss how to avoid future shutdowns.

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Roger Romanelli, the Chicago Restaurants Coalition’s coordinator, speaks during a news conference on Jan. 12, 2021.

Roger Romanelli, the Chicago Restaurants Coalition’s coordinator, speaks during a news conference earlier this month. The coalition of restaurant and food service owners on Tuesday called for weekly meeting with Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s staff.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

Chicago restaurant and bar owners were allowed to partially reopen for indoor service Saturday for the first time in months, but some aren’t happy with how the city has managed the on-again-off-again shutdowns.

Members of the Chicago Restaurants Coalition want Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s staff to meet with them weekly and discuss how to go over best safety practices to help avoid a future shutdown. They also say they want the mayor’s office to loop them in on how restaurants can help improve the city’s contact tracing efforts.

Chicago and suburban Cook County restaurants and bars that serve food are now allowed to seat customers indoors at either 25% capacity or 25 people per room, whichever is less. Roger Romanelli, the coalition’s coordinator, said the partial reopening is marginal for restaurants to succeed, but the coalition hopes to increase indoor dining capacity soon in order to hire back more workers and recover lost sales.

“Let’s understand the great role that restaurants play in our city and how they can be part of the solution,” Romanelli said at a Tuesday news conference.

While grateful for a partial reopening, Len DeFranco, owner of Hawkeye’s Bar and Grill on the Near West Side, said 25% capacity doesn’t cut it. It allows his restaurant to keep a couple of key employees, he said, but it still is not sustainable long-term.

Without indoor dining, DeFranco said restaurants that rely on parties and catering for major holidays have taken a hit. While COVID-19 numbers for the remainder of 2021 are up in the air, he said the city should make it a goal to create a pathway toward keeping restaurants open.

“It’s an apocalypse for the restaurant industry if we have to go through another holiday season with limited dining,” DeFranco said. “You are killing a vibrant part of the economy.”

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