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Indoor dining on Chicago’s menu next week, but with limits

The restaurants will be allowed to open, but only at 25% capacity, with a maximum of 50 people per room or floor. Tables must be at least 6 feet apart, with no more than 10 people per table.

A lone customer eats in the dining room at Sopraffina Marketcaffe, 10 N. Dearborn, in March, days before Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued his stay-at-home order.
A lone customer eats in the dining room at Sopraffina Marketcaffe, 10 N. Dearborn, in March, days before Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued his stay-at-home order.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Friday announced restaurants will be able to offer indoor dining in a week, on the same day the state enters Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Phase 4 of reopening.

Restaurants, bars, breweries and other eating and drinking establishments can open for indoor service next Friday, June 26, “to align with the state’s plan to move to Phase 4 on the same day,” the mayor said in a release.

That’s five days earlier than city officials had previously planned.

But the restaurants will be allowed to open only at 25% capacity, with a maximum of 50 people per room or floor. Customers must also be seated at tables 6 feet apart, with 10 people or fewer per table. And seating at bars will be limited to two hours per party. Bars must also stop selling alcohol at 11 p.m., with carryout and delivery to stop at 9 p.m.

The state plans to reveal its safety guidance for indoor restaurants next week. Last week, Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said she anticipated restaurants could resume indoor service, and museums and gyms could reopen, on July 1.

The city entered Phase 3 on June 3, about five days after the rest of the state reopened its doors to retail stores, salons and outdoor restaurant service. Bars and breweries opened on June 17 for outdoor service only.

Melani Hoffman prepares a customer’s order at The Green Lady on Wednesda
Melani Hoffman prepares a customer’s order at The Green Lady on Wednesday in accordance with Phase 3 of Chicago’s re-opening plan.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

Lightfoot has repeatedly said she could not come to an agreement with Pritzker about indoor dining and noted the financial difficulties the industry is facing. But Pritzker’s plan always allowed indoor restaurant dining to resume June 26.

Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh on Thursday said the governor was working with the restaurant industry to reopen indoor dining.

“Right now, every region in the state is on track to move to phase four on June 26,” Abudayyeh said. “Indoor dining will open across the state with capacity limits and public health guidelines at that time. The City of Chicago would therefore be able to open indoor dining on June 26.”

Friday, the governor’s office said they “are pleased to see that the Mayor has aligned the timing of the city’s plan with the state’s plan, allowing restaurants in Chicago to open indoor dining a week from today.”

A handful of customers eat in the dining room at Siam Rice, 117 N. Wells St. in March, shortly before the stay-at-home order.
A handful of customers eat in the dining room at Siam Rice, 117 N. Wells St. in March, shortly before the stay-at-home order.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

According to an email from the Illinois Restaurant Association obtained by the Sun-Times, the state’s safety guidance likely will include 50% occupancy for indoor dining. That would also include gatherings of less than 50 people with social distancing and other safety provisions.

Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia on Friday said he has pushed the city to have no capacity limits, “just social distancing with PPE.”

Toia said outdoor dining was a great first step in helping an industry that largely shut down for 12 weeks, but many businesses aren’t equipped to serve only 25% of their customers. And it’s difficult to bring back a full staff, or even a majority of the staff, to feed a smaller pool of patrons.

“I think each restaurant owner is going to have to figure out for him or herself if it makes economic sense,” Toia said. “We’re very glad that we’re moving in the right direction but I’m not sure economically you will see a lot of restaurants opening with this capacity.”

Patrons enjoy lunch on Pompei’s patio on June 3.
Patrons enjoy lunch on Pompei’s patio on June 3.
Annie Costabile/Sun-Times file

Carlos Garcia, owner of El Taco Azteca in Little Village, plans to open the dining rooms at his two locations the first day he’s allowed.

“Of course I’m happy,” Garcia said of the mayor’s announcement, speaking in Spanish. “It’s going to help a lot because it was a lot of time that we missed.”

Garcia said masks will be mandatory for workers and customers. Tables will be disinfected after every meal. He may conduct temperature checks at the door.

“I am worried about the health, but I’m looking forward to using methods that are going to keep my employees and my customers safe,” he said.

Pat Doerr, managing director of the Hospitality Business Association of Chicago said taverns, breweries and restaurants are happy to now be aligned with the state’s reopening schedule.

“We all look forward to working with the City to move past the initial 25% indoor occupancy limit as quickly and safely as possible and continue getting Chicagoans back to work,” Doerr said in a statement.

Despite indoor restaurants reopening, Lightfoot said in the release that restaurant operators “should continue to make outdoor seating a priority for safe dining and drinking.”

The City Council this week passed reforms to the sidewalk permit process to reduce fees and expand outdoor dining. Restaurants and bars are also eligible to apply for an expanded outdoor dining permit to expand operations on the street or on a private property.

Contributing: Nader Issa