Restaurants and some bars in Chicago and its surrounding suburbs can resume indoor dining starting today, as on Saturday morning the Illinois Department of Public Health officially gave all of Cook County its blessing to restart on-premise service. There are notable restrictions: There’s a four-person per table limit, and a maximum 25 percent capacity or 25 people per room. Mask wearing and social distance rules continue to be in place. Bars that don’t serve food or haven’t partnered with a restaurant, caterer, or food truck can’t offer indoor service or if they allow food delivery.
Of course, not all restaurants will elect to reopen, as many feel it’s not worth the risk and don’t want to reopen if another COVID-19 surge will force them to close again. Service industry professionals scrambled Friday night as they didn’t know how the state would make their announcement. The pressure of serving customers during a pandemic was now combined with worries from employees who wondered if their bosses were following government safety mitigations.
As the state hinted on Friday that indoor service could resume the following day, several servers were called later that day to be on call and to prepare for service. There was a chance COVID-19 positivity rates could surge over 8 percent, and the state would delaying indoor service’s return.
State officials suspended indoor dining in Chicago on October 30 as health experts pointed to a surge in hospitalizations with more COVID-19 tests returning positive. While many restaurants can turn to takeout and delivery, downtown restaurants that are designed more as attractions aren’t seeing as much success. The Illinois Restaurant Association continues to push for added capacity, saying it feels restaurants can safely serve more than the 25 percent capacity now allowed by the state.
Suburban Cook County has been more lax about enforcing the indoor ban, with local officials choosing to ignore Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s mandate. In Chicago, city inspectors have more options in shutting a bar or restaurant down, thanks to vulnerabilities in liquor and other licensing. Still, some restaurants in the city also clandestinely defied the order.
Indoor dining can resume if the state health department promotes a region to Tier 1 of its novel coronavirus response plan. Chicago is in Region 11, while suburban Cook County is in Region 10. Chicago was promoted from Restore Illinois’ Tier 3 to Tier 2 earlier in the month.