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Chicago Restaurants See Another Increase in Indoor Dining Capacity

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office made the change effective immediately

A large, airy restaurant dining room.
Dining room capacity expands again in Chicago.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

As foretold last week, Chicago has further relaxed COVID-19 regulations on restaurants and bars, increasing the number of customers allowed in dining rooms. Effectively immediately, the city has increased the maximum capacity of indoor diners from 25 to 40 percent, according to Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office. This is the second change in two weeks for restaurants, as last week Chicago began permitting a maximum of 50 indoor diners per room — a rise from the previous limit of 25 that was instituted when indoor dining returned in late January.

Increasing capacity is a move that helps larger restaurants, especially those downtown. Another increase could soon be on its way. Last week, Chicago Health Department Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said an increase to 50 percent capacity was coming should metrics indicate that positivity rates and other data points continue to decrease.

Mayor Lightfoot and Arwady have pointed to a few key metrics: the positivity rate, ER visits, and ICU bed occupancy. The Sun-Times notes that the city has seen improvements in all three categories: the rolling seven-day average of COVID-19 cases now stands at 344, the city’s average test positivity rate stands at 3.6 percent, and the rolling average of ER visits have also fallen. However, some point to the closing of COVID-19 testing sites across the city was the reason for the fall in positivity rates.

As Chicagoans are accustomed to snow, many downtown restaurants were still busy over the weekend — at least when considering COVID-19 restraints. That’s despite a snowstorm that brought 15 inches of snow on Monday and subzero temperatures.

Meanwhile, workers are waiting for the chance at a novel coronavirus vaccination. Restaurant and bar employees aren’t considered in the same category as grocery and liquor store workers and will have to wait until March 29 to be eligible for a shot. Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia has asked both Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Lightfoot’s offices to move up that date, but hasn’t heard from either politician.