It’s Monday, March 29, which means that bar and restaurant workers in Chicago are now eligible to receive shots as the city enters Phase 1C of its novel coronavirus vaccine rollout. Workers in suburban Cook County were made eligible last week as a part of Phase 1B+, a group that includes construction trade workers and religious leaders,
Manny’s Deli is giving away sandwiches on Tuesday, March 30 but it’s not a celebratory gesture. The first 1,000 mask-wearing customers who stop at the beloved South Side shop can pick up one free sandwich. The gimmick (copped from Florida’s vegan deli Golden Dinosaur) was born out of frustration with customers who can’t seem to obey COVID-19 safety rules. Earlier in March, Manny’s made a promise: If customers could go 30 days without being told to properly wear a mask, they’d give out free sandwiches. That effort didn’t last long with the daily tally often resetting by lunchtime. An anonymous donor has since stepped up to fund Tuesday’s free sandwiches special and as the deli reloads, it will also donate sandwiches to 450 staff members at the United Center’s mass vaccination site.
With ice melted, the infrastructure restaurants built to survive the pandemic — heated tents, pods, and other outdoor spaces — could seemingly pay dividends during the spring, especially as vaccinations change opinions on the safety of eating out. But the new challenge is finding workers. Several restaurant owners — from Michelin-starred restaurants, to quick-serve operations — have told Eater Chicago that they’re struggling to fill vacancies as they ramp up business. As they expect the government to increase indoor dining capacities — it’s currently at 50 percent — and they’ll need more servers and cooks.
But as the Manny’s stunt shows, there’s little confidence that the public will abide by COVID-19 safety rules. Many service industry workers have opted to stay away — in some cases they’ve left restaurants all together. Workers can better afford to do this thanks to the latest batch of federal aid approved by President Joe Biden’s administration. It’s not just happening in Chicago — restaurant owners in Rockford tell MyStateline about their struggles filling job openings.
Though plenty of hospitality workers have received shots in other parts of the country, the launch of 1C means that the city has hit the target date Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady aimed for earlier this month. The Illinois Restaurant Association, which had unsuccessfully pushed to expedite restaurant workers’ access to vaccines, has launched a punny “Let’s Do Shots!” campaign — in Spanish and English — to provide resources and promote vaccinations in the industry.
The launch of this new phase is one that that many employees and operators have been anxiously awaiting for months. That anxiety has spiked as officials have steadily loosened caps on indoor dining capacity. Workers who are worried about finding appointments are already turning to social media for help, crowdsourcing information through the Chicago Vaccine Hunters page and private service industry Facebook groups.