This Friday, June 26, Chicago restaurants are going to be allowed to reopen their indoor dining rooms. This is a week ahead of schedule, but it happens to coincide with the start of the gross part of summer when it’s no longer thrilling to be outside because the weather has gotten hot and humid and disgusting and no one wants to venture too far from air conditioning or a really good fan.
(Note: No one in any authority has actually said this, but the decision to speed up reopening was extremely abrupt, and it makes me suspicious. I’ve also spent too many summers in Chicago in un-air-conditioned apartments, when I’ve resorted to hanging out in restaurants and movie theaters or driving around aimlessly at three in the morning in order to cool off.)
There is a catch, however, because there always is: restaurants will only be able to keep their dining rooms at 25% capacity with a maximum of 50 people per room.
The reaction among restaurant owners has been mixed. Some say they can work within those restrictions. “People will still prefer sitting outside, I think, but if the weather turns bad, I won’t have to send them all home,” Michael Roper, founder of Hopleaf, a bar and restaurant in Andersonville, told the Chicago Tribune. “That is a huge advantage.”
Others think they’ll need to be at least at 50% capacity to have a chance of recouping their losses after being closed for three months. Sam Toia, president and CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association, told the Tribune that he would prefer a model more like California’s, where restaurants can serve as many people as they like, as long as the tables are six feet apart and everyone is wearing masks.
But, Toia told CBS-2, he estimates that 75% of restaurants won’t reopen their dining rooms at all.
Among them is Mo’s Cantina in River North. Mo’s has an 800-person capacity, but the restrictions will only allow 50 people in at a time. “If we’re going to open and just blow the money we won’t survive till the end of the year,” owner Sam Sanchez told CBS.
It’s also unclear if dining in will increase the spread of COVID-19 the way it has in Florida and other states that have already reopened or how closely Chicago restaurants will hold to the restrictions. Nobody knows anything. We are all part of a great experiment.