As Chicago on Tuesday released its guidelines for reopening restaurants, one of the more intriguing points was an exemption for indoor dining stemming from what defines an outdoor space. A footnote reveals that some indoor spaces with floor to ceiling or garage-style windows could be eligible to reopen.
This is the city’s language describing that “dining areas considered outdoors include rooftops, rooms with retractable roofs and indoor spaces where 50 percent or more of a wall can be removed via the opening of windows, doors, or panels provided that dining tables are within 8 feet from such openings.”
It’s offered as a footnote in the city’s guidelines, but also appears in the state’s set of rules which was released earlier.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot has repeatedly expressed worry that Chicago’s weather patterns, including rain, would doom outdoor dining: “no restaurant I know of is gonna be able to survive, depending upon what the weather is gonna be like on a particular day in Chicago,” the mayor told reporters on May 21, according to the Sun-Times.
The 50-percent rule would allow protection for diners from precipitation. As the rules were released Tuesday afternoon, many restaurant owners have yet to read them. A few, including Passion House Coffee Roasters Josh Millman, were unaware that indoor dining was a possibility. Millman’s Goose Island coffee shop has a garage-style window that rolls up which would satisfy the city’s 50-percent requirement.
As Chicago won’t reopen its restaurants on Saturday, when many other municipalities across the state will, there’s not as much urgency. Lightfoot hasn’t committed to a date for outdoor dining. She’s waiting for Chicago to hit health benchmarks before giving the OK. A reporter last week pinned her into saying it will happen before June 10.
In other news...
- State and city officials have yet to clarify whether bars could open with outdoor seating. Bar customers differ from restaurant customers as they tend to linger more, and health experts worry about the extended exposure could accelerate the spread of COVID-19. Some bars owners are getting anxious, including a pair outside of Chicago. The Daily Herald has the story about Eddie Gaedel Pub and Grill in Elburn. Owners reopened their bar last week after installing a plastic shield between patrons and bartenders, removing seating and placing plastic sheeting between tables. The owners, who have the support of Elburn’s village president, say “you have a better chance of dying in your car driving out to Eddie Gaedel’s than you do catching the virus once you’re inside.” The bar is named after a little person used as a gimmick by the old St. Louis Browns baseball team. The owner says he’s lost several friends over their decision to reopen.
Over Memorial Day weekend, Poopy’s Pub reopened to large crowds of bikers in Savanna, which is two and a half hours west of Chicago. Customers didn’t wear masks or observe social distancing rules, according to the local ABC affiliate, WQAD: “I’m not trying to be some type of outlaw or anything. I’ve just got to make a living. That’s where we’re at,” Poopy’s owner tells the station. The biker bar also hosted live music. The music business has been hit hard, and one company wants to develop a biohazard-style suit to keep concertgoers safe.
- Chicago’s largest hospitality company, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, has instituted a 4-percent COVID-19 surcharge on all orders. Crain’s reports that LEYE’s owners cite rising food costs and the price of ensuring workers have proper PPE as reasons for the fee. Earlier this month in Lakeview, Harold’s Chicken was criticized for adding a 26-percent COVID-19 surcharge which it discontinued. There’s debate among restaurant owners on how to handle this, as some are afraid or too lazy to increase prices across their menus to reflect higher costs due to the pandemic. This is something to keep track of as restaurants reopen.
- 86 the Silence, the food and beverage arm of Chicago suicide prevention non-profit Hope for the Day (HFTD — the organization behind Logan Square’s Sip of Hope coffee bar), will hold a workshop from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday to destigmatize conversations around mental health in the hospitality industry. It’ll be lead by Jeannine Wise, education and training director of the Frontera Restaurant Group, and Joel Frieders, HFTD’s director of public policy. Wise is eager to share additional resources as well, especially opportunities for sober support for hospitality workers in recovery. Monday’s workshop is free, and attendees should RSVP online.
- Demand for frozen pies from adored South Side pizza chain Home Run Inn skyrocketed in the early weeks of the pandemic, according to the Tribune. The family-owned company has cranked out around 78,000 frozen pizzas per day, keeping all of its employees with the help of a federal Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loan.
- Springfield lawmakers gave Mayor Lightfoot a victory over the weekend by approving a Chicago casino bill. City officials hope money from a casino would help pay its pension obligations to governmental employees. A casino would have impact on the food and beverage world; gamblers need to eat and drink. There are five potential locations to pick from, reports WTTW’s Chicago Tonight. A city report recommends a tourist-friendly spot for the casino, but that would neglect locations on the south and west sides where developers have ignored.
- Six Flags Great America, the state’s most popular theme park, has announced its reopening plans. Officials from the Gurnee attraction say they’re ready to reopen, even though the state won’t permit them until a COVID-19 vaccination is released under Phase Five of Restore Illinois. Part of Great America’s plan includes exclusively using smartphone apps to order food and drink. They’re encouraging contactless ordering from the food court, according to NBC Chicago.