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Chicago’s Top Doc Warns Against Increasing Dining Party Sizes at Restaurants

West Loop and Fulton Market restaurants want to increase the max people per table from six to 10

Two people sitting at patio table.
Fulton Market restaurant owners want to seat more people per table.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

Restaurant owners in the West Loop and Fulton Market want to seat dining parties bigger than what the city currently allows, saying the restriction is hurting business that’s already suffering. The owners of Formento’s and Kuma’s Corner are among owners who want Mayor Lori Lightfoot to increase the maximum number of folks seated a tables from six to 10. A letter has been sent to aldermen on the behalf of restaurant owners in the two restaurant-heavy neighborhoods asking for the city for another coronavirus lifeline.

When Chicago’s restaurants reopened for outdoor dining in June, the city limited customers to a maximum of six people per table. Officials increased that number to 10 in late June, as the also allowed dining rooms and bars to reopen. As COVID-19 numbers surged, the city closed bars again on July 24. Restaurants could continue to serve customers indoors, but the city decreased maximum number of people that could sit at a table. The number went back from 10 to six.

Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady was blunt Tuesday morning a response to the request: “Not a chance, not right now, not as numbers are on their way up,” she said at a morning news conference.

Arwady explains that as novel coronavirus numbers increase in Chicago, the chances of asymptomatic people increases. That poses a great risk at restaurants. Dropping the number back to six makes Chicagoans safer, she says.

“When you are at a restaurant, indoors, by definition — pretty much — the people at your table have just come into your bubble,” the doctor says. “Because you have to take your mask off, people are sitting close, they’re in those social settings...we have seen examples of spread.”

Arwady points out the city is hovering near an average of 300 new COVID-19 cases a day; it’s at 273. When the numbers are closer to 200, the city will be in a “setting when you can loosen restrictions,” the doctor says.

The restaurant owners wanting the increase, according to the Sun-Times, say they’re being unfairly treated, labeled in the same group as overcrowded bars which ignored safety rules. The six-person limit does not apply to private events. Chicago still allows private events up to 50 people provided that guests can be six-feet apart, people wear masks, and other safety rules are observed.

Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosa Escareno told reporters Monday that restaurants and bars have been, for the most part, law abiding when it came to following COVID-19 protocols. The city is most worried about unauthorized events. Officials shut down a warehouse party held Friday, July 31 in Humboldt Park. Organizers advertised the party via Eventbrite. Escareno said the party was broken up because attendees weren’t wearing masks and didn’t social distance.